Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything

Free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute today published a report advocating the privatisation of, well, practically everything, reports Liam Thompson.

Not content with a public sector due to be cut back massively during this Parliament, right-wing think tank the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) today published a report advocating the privatisation of, well, practically everything. The report, “Privatisation Revisited”, recommends the Coalition Government sell off a huge range of assets and organisations that will generate a one-off £90 billion windfall for the public purse and, it claims, “rejuvenate” the British economy.

The hit list, drawn up by Europe’s self-appointed “favourite think tank”, includes Network Rail, the East Coast Main Line, BBC Worldwide, Trust Ports, the National Air Traffic Services, Scottish Water, Ordnance Survey, The Royal Mint, British Waterways, Royal Mail and Channel 4 (notably doing away with its bothersome “Public Service Remit” to encourage its sale).

It also recommends that public shares in the major banks, such as Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and Northern Rock, should be returned to the private sector – without as much as a hint to the market failure of 2008 which forced a Government bailout.

Written by City analyst Nigel Lawkins, the report also shows worrying long-term ambitions to privatise the entirety of the London Underground system (despite the failure of Metronet), creating a franchise system on Britain’s highways, all of the BBC and selling off 10 per cent of the Government’s property portfolio.

The report waxes lyrical about the first great wave of privatisation under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Somewhat strangely, the report forgets to mention how North Sea oil revenues propped-up the Thatcher Governments and how ropey it is to fund revenue expenditure by selling assets, which after all, you can only sell off once.

The ASI report does, though, confess that:

“During the mid-1990s, UK privatisation seemed to lose its way. Admittedly, the most attractive businesses had already been sold and the privatisation cupboard was looking rather bare. Nonetheless, there were still some valuable assets that remained within public sector ownership – a scenario that remains to this day.”

Most importantly, however, the report completely ignores the social effects of widespread and rapid privatisations, from which much of the country is still recovering, begging the question: what wouldn’t they privatise?!

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.