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. 

19 Responses to “Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything”

  1. Georgina Vincent

    RT @leftfootfwd: Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything: @AdamSmithInst

  2. Shamik Das

    RT @leftfootfwd: Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything: @AdamSmithInst

  3. Idle Pen Pusher

    “@leftfootfwd: Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition 2 privatise mos evting: @AdamSmithInst” About time too!

  4. Cliff James

    RT @leftfootfwd: Sell! Sell! Sell! Is bonfire of quangos to be followed by the bonfire of the state?

  5. Mike O'Brien

    RT @leftfootfwd Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything: @AdamSmithInst [more economic vandalism]

  6. Jen Wilton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything: @AdamSmithInst

  7. Michelle Graham

    Think tank ASI wants UK to sell assets for < annual interest on the deficit to fund revenue expenditure RT @leftfootfwd

  8. Nicola Iannelli

    RT @leftfootfwd: Sell! Sell! Sell! Think tank urges coalition to privatise almost everything: @AdamSmithInst

  9. George McLean

    One question and one pedantic comment. (1) Can someone give some background on ASI’s funding, and in particular whether they have government funding for their reports? (2) Not “begging the question” (ie assuming the truth of what is to be established) but “raising the question”.

  10. Anon E Mouse

    Can’t we sell the whole of the BBC please? To be threatened with prison for not having a TV licence – a tax on a product you’ve already paid tax on to purchase – is disgraceful.

    Sell it off – the sooner the government starts governing and not trying to run a business the better…

  11. jeff marks

    agree on the bbc, mouse. but who’d buy it, given that there’d be no license fee to pay for it?

  12. Anon E Mouse

    Jeff Marks – It would be snapped up as subscription tv for sale around the world – Top Gear is watched by millions abroad Doctor Who, Sherlock – get subscription for the US and you’ve done it.

    Also the radio is loved everywhere but because of the licence fee it can’t be sold abroad – that is sellable.

    I’d pay for the BBC on a Sky card. I know there is a whole bunch of sanctimonious drivel on it – “The Now Show” on R4 springs to mind – but those unpopular minority shows would rapidly disappear.

    Get shot of it and let the overpaid managers see if they do get the same wages in the private sector…

  13. jeff marks


    i actual find the now show the only funny comedy on R4. but yes, I’d pay for R4 no problem. and the website (although it crowds out competitors). bbc1 and 2 are pretty terrible. i watch newsnight, question time and the week in politics and that’s it (but then i have all the documentary channels on sky).

    those managers only get paid so much coz they set their own wages at the bbc.

  14. idle pen pusher

    Highly disappointing blog. Isn’t this place meant to be ‘evidence based’?

    “Cut back massively”: Total Managed Expenditure is expected to total £696bn this year (2010/11), according to the Emergency Budget. In 2015/16, the end of the Parliament, it is projected to be £756bn. That’s not a ‘massive cut’ in the public sector. It’s not even a ‘tiny cut’. It’s an increase. Even when you account for inflation, the figures don’t change much. The projection for 2015/16 at after discounting for inflation is £671bn, a cut of 3.6% phased in over 5 years, equivalent to 0.7% per year. On this definition, it is certainly a ‘cut’. Though it’s hard to justify the ‘massive’ bit when you’re talking about a cut of less than 4%. Also worth noting is that what is being cut is capital expenditure. In every single year, in both cash terms and after adjusting for inflation, current expenditure will rise.

    It’s annoyed me so much I’ve devoted a whole blog post to it!

  15. jeff marks

    for ‘evidence based’, read ludicrous lefty twaddle.

  16. Benjamin

    They would not privatise the army and police, although they would privatise both these functions around the edges – a process that, incidentally, Labour embarked on.

  17. George McLean

    So no answer to my genuine question at (1), then, but a number of unconstructive anonymous responses. Come on, people …!

  18. Mr. Sensible

    Mr Mouse I would sooner have a public service state broadcaster than a Fox News style one. I think I read somewhere that News International own 37% of the UK Newspaper industry alone. Is that healthy?

    And lets remember that after 2012 we will effectively have no choice but to pay Sky or whoever if we want to maintain a TV service.

    On the railways, I find it disturbing, though not surprising, that the Adam Smith Institute wants to revisit privatizing Network Rail again, given what happened last time and the appalling safety record that Network Rail inherited from Railtrack in 2001.

    And on London Underground, like this article says look what happened with Metronet. And in my view 1 of the things that is good about London public transport is that the mayor can set ticket prices and be held directly accountable for it.

    This kind of comment from the ASI is totally unsurprising.

    BTW, since we’re on R4 comedy ‘Just a Minute’ is my preference.

  19. idle pen pusher

    George McLean – so you want someone else to look at their website, find their telephone number and ring them up and ask the questions for you?

    What exactly is stopping you from doing that rather than simply sounding off about how other people aren’t catering to your curiosity?

Leave a Reply