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Crony capitalism? Maybe! More like vulture capitalism – Jon Trickett MP

“From the track & trace app to the recruitment of nurses, we are watching our health service be stripped of its ability to function properly. This is not because of efficiency or cost, nor is it solely down to incompetence. It is an ideological commitment to a system rigged to favour unaccountable private businesses over democratic public ownership.”

Jon Trickett MP

The Jon Trickett No Holding Back Column:

“Never waste a crisis”. It’s advice which Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson have often followed. And the Tories are most definitely not wasting the pandemic.  It has become an opportunity to carry out their central ideological imperative which is once and for all to put an end to the last remnants of the already tattered post war consensus.

There used to be such talk in decades past of a mixed economy in Britain: part private, part public. The two sectors were meant to work together to create a more acceptable and humane form of capitalism.

What we have now is the remains of the public sector being preyed upon daily by an increasingly ravenous privatising culture.

From the track and trace app to the recruitment of nurses, we are watching our health service be stripped of its ability to function properly.

This is not because of efficiency or cost, nor is it solely down to incompetence. It is an ideological commitment to a system rigged to favour unaccountable private businesses over democratic public ownership.

Whilst Boris Johnson stood by a slogan of ‘Take Back Control’, all he has pursued is an increase of control for a wealthy few, topping up the bank accounts of management company CEOs and shareholders whilst NHS service users and staff suffer.

It’s not just that the profit motive is being introduced into every area where taxpayers’ support public services. It is also that the central ethos of the service then changes.  We move from public service to private profit and shareholder value.

Now, £830m worth of health contracts have been handed to companies linked to ministers and backroom advisors. One firm, Clipper Logistics, was handed a contract for PPE production when its chairman has donated £750,000 to the Tory Party over the last five years. Movianti, another firm awarded a Government contract (of £55m), failed to distribute PPE in time because most of the stock was out of date.

In May this year, it was reported that over £1bn worth of these public contracts had been handed out without tender. Yet, many of these companies have been handed contracts for services and resources which have never been used. Fifty million masks were ordered as part of a £252m deal that will never be used and the Nightingale hospitals were built costing up to £350m for three months but treated fewer than 100 patients.

Why are these deals still being handed out? To line the pockets of their shareholder friends at the expense of the taxpayer. But it never works. Putting profit before people leads to service breakdown.

Just last month, it was reported that Serco, whose CEO is the brother of a Tory MP, had fallen far short of the targets set by SAGE (Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) for track and trace, reaching only 58% of its 80% target.

Serco’s role in track and trace has been nothing short of a disgrace, with polling showing that the public want to see it being brought in house. Despite their record, the company has just been awarded a further £45m to provide covid test centres.

Medical professionals have consistently called out Serco’s record in our health service, with the British Medical Association stating that ‘it is highly concerning that the company was entrusted to support critical services on behalf of the UK government during the pandemic.’ Yet, the Government, in their ideological pursuit for marketisation, have chosen to reward failure.

We have also recently heard that accounting firm Deloitte, who have been drafted in to help the Government with track and trace, has developed a separate contact tracing system that is being sold separately to local health authorities.

Where councils are trying to address the national failure of the service, they are being offered a different system by the same provider. This means that the company that has already secured millions from the taxpayer is intending to profit from the failure of a system they created. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, is the close relationship between the companies which are now feasting on public services and the Conservative Party.

It came as no surprise when Dido Harding was appointed as head of the Track and Trace service, the wife of a Tory MP who sits on the board of a think tank that believes the NHS should be replaced by an insurance-based system.

Some will characterise all this as the worst form of crony capitalism. Where there is a mutually advantageous relationship between business leaders and politics.

But of course there is cronyism.  They meet at private dinner parties, Tory fundraising functions, or at the golf course. It’s a case of you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.  Their relatives and friends work for the company, or maybe it’s a well paid private income for you when you leave politics.

But I would rather describe it as vulture capitalism where private greed feasts off the body of taxpayer public services which are meant to operate for the common good rather than private profit. It is sickening to watch. It’s our job to call this out, to campaign against it and to warn that when we get into government, we will put an end to it.

  • Jon is one of 5 regular columnists for Labour Outlook from the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, alongside John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Kate Osborne and Apsana Begum.

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