The sell offs George Osborne doesn’t want you to know about

Once our public services have been sold to make profits for a wealthy few, we can't get them back.


I’ve never enjoyed handing out leaflets as much as I did at the People’s Assembly march on Saturday, where we launched our new campaign against George Osborne’s plans to sell off £23 billion of public assets.

We propped up ten giant ‘Top Trumps’ cards highlighting some of these public assets – Ordnance Survey, the Royal Mint, the Met Office and more – against the outside of HM Treasury, and the fun began.

It was a busy day in London, as always. People were marching against austerity, chatting to friends, seeing the sights at Westminster, or just rushing from place to place. Most people rushed on by the first person who offered them our leaflet.

Then they caught sight of the giant cards with their colourful pictures and key facts. They stopped, they stared, they had a proper look, they started to gather, stand still and chat – before accepting the next leaflet they were offered.

Our leaflet-givers cunningly positioned themselves to take advantage of this process. The comments started, and the conversations.

‘I had no idea!’

‘That’s outrageous’ – from two members of the police.

‘But how can they sell off Ordnance Survey?’

‘It doesn’t make economic sense, it’s purely ideological’

‘I didn’t know Channel 4 was publicly owned! Are you sure it’s publicly owned?’

‘If these things were run privately, surely they’d cost us more or the quality would go down?’

‘Really? The Royal Mint is over a thousand years old?’

‘This is great!’ (The campaign, not the sell off.)

‘They’re just a bunch of gangsters’

‘But why are they selling them off, Mum? Why?‘ – this from a cute Brummie girl who was about seven years old.

People got out their phones and started taking photos or filming what was going on, zooming in close to check out the detail on the cards.

George Osborne wants to privatise as much as he can, as quickly as he can. He is counting on people not to stop and stare, or pay too much attention, or start talking to each other about his plans.

He’s gambling on the fact that people are rushing from one thing to another, and far too busy to pay attention to a few seemingly obscure public assets that happen to still be owned by us.

But as soon as the public finds out about the vital statistics of some of these services, they will look again at what the chancellor is doing, and they will ask the obvious question, just like that child did: ‘But why George? Why?

Osborne’s sell offs don’t make sense and can’t stand up to scrutiny from the public.

Why would you sell off the Royal Mint, the third oldest institution in the world and the leading export mint with 15 per cent of the worldwide market?

Royal Mint

Why would you sell off the Met Office, one of the top two weather forecasting services in the world, which advises governments across the globe?

Met Office

Why would you sell off Ordnance Survey, whose data saves the government tens of millions of pounds and underpins an estimated £100 billion of the UK economy (not to mention its much-loved, world-famous maps)?

Ordnance Survey

All of these Top Trumps (and almost all of the ten cards in our pack, with the notable exceptions of Royal Bank of Scotland and Channel 4) make a profit for the public purse – millions of pounds every year, coming back to the Treasury, to the taxpayer, to us.

All of these Top Trumps provide a vital public service that we can’t do without. The Land Registry underpins the guarantee of title of £3 trillion of property. National Air Traffic Services keeps 220 million air passengers safe every year.

Many of these Top Trumps are national treasures, loved by the public, part of our shared history as well as being innovative and responsive to the changing times.

We know George’s answer to our question ‘why?’ of course: to make a quick bit of cash, as quickly as possible. And, as he said at the CBI dinner where he announced this policy, to ‘get the government out of the business of owning great chunks of our banking system – and indeed other assets that should be in the private sector’.

But why should these assets be in the private sector, when they are working so well in public hands?

Once our public assets are gone, they’re gone. Of course, we’ll still have to use them. We’ll still need maps, data, land registry documents, a postal service, coins, weather updates.

If this goes ahead, we’ll just end up paying more for them, in hidden or less hidden ways, as taxpayers or as consumers. Just like we pay more for rail fares, energy bills and water bills because these services have already been privatised.

We’ll have lost out on the millions of pounds worth of revenue coming in every year, year on year, forever. We’ll have lost out on a bit of our history, institutions that we might have some pride in.

And we’ll have lost out on collective, public services that put the needs of the public – us – above the profits of a few.

When the chancellor recently sold off 15 per cent of the Royal Mail overnight to bankers, he was counting on us not paying attention. Let’s pay attention now, before we lose out again.

Sign up to the Top Trumps campaign today; it’s time to tell George Osborne he can’t play games with our public services.

Cat Hobbs is the director of We Own It. Follow her on Twitter

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26 Responses to “The sell offs George Osborne doesn’t want you to know about”

  1. Jacko

    Ms Hobbs, when I go to your website and check the ‘evidence’ section, you don’t actually provide evidence, do you?

    For instance, under “Met Office”, “Royal Mint”, “National Air Traffic Services”, “Land Registry” there’s a description of the work and history of these institutions, followed by the single line, “…is at risk of being privatised as part of George Osborne’s plan to sell off £23 billion of public assets.”

    That’s not evidence. It’s just speculation. So to stand out in the street with eye-catching posters and tell members of the public that these sales are being planned is completely erroneous. So is this a deliberate attempt to mislead people through falsehood and sensationalism?

  2. stevep

    He`ll put them in private hands so his rich cronies can make a swift profit, then when they are bled dry and start to go tits up the taxpayer will have to step in as usual and bail them out. Ahhh, Capitalism…… the natural home of liars, scroungers and spivs.

  3. Torybushhug

    Every pension plan holder in the land benefits from the dividend income fed to their pension fund by way of share ownership. Even state schemes such as council super annuation schemes indirectly invest in shares via 3rd party investment specialists.
    The annual COE pension report boasts of it’s above target returns on equities.
    What was that about only a rich handful benefitting from the sell off of state entities?

  4. Torybushhug

    Remind me when BT and British Gas, British Airways and the rest went bust? Sounds like the usual bland, abstract, populist 6th former lefty rhetoric.

  5. Torybushhug

    On the Sunday Politics Dianne Abbot regurgitate one left wing populist myth after another. Only the right are made to apologise for such things. The left are guardians of the evidence, see.

  6. stevep

    BT was hived off from the GPO so that wealthy spivs could make a quick buck out of it`s profitable arm whilst leaving the rest of it to wither.
    British Gas has probably attracted more complaints than any other privatised utility for it`s pricing and customer service.
    British airways could only stay in the air after driving a coach and horses through staff contracts and forcing new recruits to take less.
    Hardly a model of capitalist good behaviour, eh.
    Lets not mention Railtrack, The G4s Olympics debacle, the subsidies given to the car industry from our money so they won`t bugger off elsewhere, agricultural subsidies, taxpayer subsidies to wealthy corporations and individuals so they won`t bugger off etc. etc.
    Please don`t insult our intelligence with your blatant and persistent trolling on behalf of a failed economic doctrine that seeks only to protect and enhance the wealth and privileges of a few whilst shitting on the rest of us.

  7. dnspncr

    UK privatisation has created hundreds of millions a year which is benefiting taxpayers, it’s just a shame it isn’t UK taxpayers. Swathes of Britain’s energy, transport and utility networks are now run by companies owned by other European governments – foreign exchequers reap the dividends while we all struggle with increasing fares and bills.

    I was amused that you mentioned BT, although UK owned, the last time I rang their Bangalore call centre I was almost driven to distraction, surely this must chime with your right wing sensibilities.

  8. Cole

    British Gas must be one of the worst companies in the country for consumers. They’re utterly incompetent. Still, I guess the powers-that-be don’t care as the investors have made a fortune. Monopoly (or semi-monopoly) capitalism does not work.

  9. Cole

    The right have a lot to apologise for – not least the utterly corrupt selling of our country’s institutions to their friends, often cheaply.

  10. Cole

    Ever heard of hedge fund billionaires – to give one example? These are the people who fund the Tories and benefit from their policies. They’ve done very nicely out of the Post Office sell off and the NHS privatisation. A corrupt racket.

  11. blarg1987

    What LFF needs to do is an FOI looking at the business plan to sell off these assets as well as a cost benefit analysis to the taxpayer.

    Guarantee they will use the “commercially sensitive” which will mean they have not done a cost benefit analysis follow this up with an appeal and pass it onto other media outlets.

    IF it puts the government in an untenable position (which it would) they will drop their plans, however these actions need to be taken first.

  12. Rob

    You better believe it the conservatives are very good at hiding the evidence and not coming clean about public sell offs until the deal is done look at the Probation Service sold very quietly and now in the hands of Private for profit Organisations. Ask most people and they wouldn’t have a clue about what has already been sold off.

  13. RobD

    All these (our) state assets now mostly foreign-owned and this from the party that claims to be pro-British. Pro-tax evader and richest, more like.

  14. Cat Hobbs

    Hi Jacko

    No, it’s not speculation. The Top Trumps petition ( links to this story

    And the Shareholder Executive (which will become part of UK Government Investments) has its portfolio online here

    The evidence on the pages is about public ownership vs privatisation i.e. these services are working well in public hands. We’ll see if we can make that clearer.


  15. David Davies

    These are not sales, but giveaways, to their tax dodging chums. If you take just the Royal Mail, the pension fund remains in public ownership, but the assets have been gifted to asset-strippers. Property owned and financed out of the public purse will be `sweated’; to generate enormous returns for the criminal fraudsters who `thrive on certainty’ of their guaranteed wonga.

  16. Cole

    Quite right. I stood in the street the other day and saw 2 ‘privatised’ buses go past – one owned by Deutsche Bahn and the other by France’s RATP. Crazy.

  17. David Brede

    The House of Commons would make a lush hotel.

  18. BerthaTMauldin

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  19. Jold

    The left have a lot to apologise for – not least the utterly corrupt entry into an illegal war.

    If we’re going to dredge up everything that a party has done for political gain we might as well all go home now. Nobody is innocent. The difference that I see is that the left seem a lot more willing to pull up and spin things the right have done.

    Would like to put out that I’m a lefty, I just find it despicable that lately that’s all leftist parties have done. Where’s the real policy and protest? Rather than invent topics and accuse the right, we need to actually identify real sticking points. Which aren’t as many as the media would have the general populace believe.

  20. IanRM

    Conservative Party Supporters seem to fall into two categories. 1. Those who will personally benefit fiscally from Tory sell off scams 2. Idiots, who follow like sheep and believe everything they are told – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  21. Cat Lover

    So much has been sold off already. It makes you wonder where the money has gone, because the deficit is worse now than when the Cons came in and after 5 years of cuts. Is George O up to the job!!!

  22. LondonStatto

    I’m not sure exactly why you think it worthwhile sharing the opinions of people who were on a demonstration against reality.

  23. Steve Long

    we could renationilse them been done before we bailed RBS out with taxplayers money for one

  24. Dominic Haigh


    BR was privitised in 1993. Given your position please explain figure 2.5 on page 22 which shows government spending rising since privatization.

  25. neil collinson

    Thatcher all over again short term gain then back to the same. What happens when there is nothing left to sell off. her sell off did not see us the tax payer any better off why should it be different this time

  26. Patrick Nelson

    Bo*******, if its existence does not suit the interests of their chums everything is under threat from the Tory pirates who you love so much.

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