Breaking news of the Construction and services firm Carillion PLC going into compulsory liquidation with a threat of job losses to 20,000 people, is a testament to the crazy economic system we endure. We are now in the Carillion Loop which has three parts.
The first is the cycle where profit is privatised and massive losses are ‘socialised’. Businessmen are eulogised and deified and put on the telly as gurus and wise men. Public sector workers and leaders are ridiculed. We take all the risk, they take all the money.
The second is where profit is made by ripping off our public services. The likes of Carillion bids for and gets contracts for public institutions and bodies, and then charges exorbitant fees within that, driving up the costs of running that body (often – as in the school meals – hiding their appalling practice behind “commercial confidentiality”). Our politicians then tell us that body is too expensive to run (probably too many immigrants or something).
The third part of the loop is where these PFI contracts are “flipped”. As the Independent reports:
“Private contractors have pocketed hundreds of millions of pounds of profits in the past four years by exploiting deals that were controversially awarded to them by the last Labour government. Companies that were awarded contracts to build and maintain state schools for 25 years have been doubling their money by “flipping”, or selling on, the Private Finance Initiative (PFIs) projects just four years after finishing them.”
Four contractors alone made profits of more than £300m. Carillion made £12.2m according to stock market filings and company documents.
In any sane country this would be a wake-up call for the disastrous policies of privatisation which have puts thousands of jobs a stake, undermined hundreds of small companies and routinely rip-off the public purse. It would bring down a government and cause such a shock to the general public it would trigger a reassessment of the decades-old mantra of private good-public bad and usher in a new era.
The reality instead?
The chairman of Carillion, Philip Green, is an adviser to the Prime Minister Theresa May on corporate responsibility.
Jim Kennedy, Unite’s national officer for local government, said: “Public services, vast amounts of public money, thousands of jobs, including in a lengthy supply chain of insecure agency workers who are also at risk, and workers’ hard-saved pensions are all in danger of being dragged under by yet another bout of reckless corporate irresponsibility.
“There are also serious questions that need to be asked and answered about Carillion’s conduct.
“Did directors move to protect their bonuses before the financial stability of the company?”
That’s a good question.
BlackRock, where George Osborne is a £650,000-a-year adviser, are among the short-sellers that have made a killing betting on Carillion’s collapse.
Campaign group People vs PFI (private finance initiatives) said the crisis was reminiscent of the 2008 banking crash and any notion of a bailout or state-backed loan guarantees should be rejected. People vs PFI campaigner Joel Benjamin said: “Carillion’s implosion is a timely reminder just how out of step UK privatisation and infrastructure finance policy is with public opinion.
“PFI deals are rightly associated by the public with crony capitalism and corruption and should be banned.”
The most troubled contracts include: HS2, Midland Met Hospital; Royal Liverpool Hospital and the Aberdeen bypass.
None of this is new.
Back in 2016 when PFI-built schools in Edinburgh were literally falling apart, that as a wee wake-up call right then.
“A racket, the legacy of 13 years of New Labour appeasement, triangulation and false accounting.”
As I pointed out at the time, the scheme, which started under the John Major government, was enthusiastically embraced by Blair and Brown’s administrations. Scotland wasn’t just the testing ground for this disaster (the first PFI project in Britain was the Skye bridge), it has a far higher proportion than anywhere else.
As the writer Gerry Hassan pointed out: “Scotland has 40% of PFI schools with 8.5% of the population.”
Why is that? The journalist Mark Leftly suggests it was Brown who persuaded Blair to take PFI forward – resulting in a debt Leftly puts at a cool £222bn.
Carillion is the PFI scandal writ large. It is Britain’s dark money, shabby deals that steal from the public and shovel money into the mouths of the rich. The system is discredited. The model is broken. It is crumbling before our eyes.
As the Brexit farce reaches new depths, you know what we should take back control of? Our schools and hospitals.
Let’s make tomorrow a better place.