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We Own It - A Message for Railways, Royal Mail, the NHS and Much More

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When I give speeches up and down the country, two topics vie for the loudest cheers from a wide variety of audiences - one is the Green Party's call to return railways to public ownership, the second is when I say "we believe in a publicly owned and publicly run NHS".

Yet somehow, I find when talking to journalists, both of these ideas - indeed our strong support for public ownership of essential public services - is regarded as a "radical" idea.

It's an indictment of the state of our national politics - the distance that the ideas of our political class in the form of three largest parties has moved from the general public - that it's hard to find an organised voice outside that of the Green Party and the unions speaking up for it.

Yet the public - and the Green Party - understand that privatisation and outsourcing have been disastrous, built on putting public funds straight into private profits, cutting the pay and condition of workers and the quality of services. And all too often, as we've been finding with the water companies - the piling of debts on to essential public services, while capital is extracted to further boost private profits and financial risks multiplied.

We've seen a long trail of disasters and all too often tragic disasters. You just have to recite the acronyms - A4E, G4S, Atos.

It's unsurprising then that a new organisation, We Own It, launching today, has found that the public rejects default privatisation by 10:1, and that 80% think that private bids.

It has launched with a draft bill, the Public Service Users Bill, which would require public ownership to be considered before privatising or outsourcing services, as well as in the bidding process.
We Own It's new report 'Better in Public Hands' says public ownership is making a comeback, not that public affection and sense of its value ever went away.

The models need to be carefully considered - renationalisation or maintaining national ownership makes sense in some cases (notably and topically Royal Mail), but often what we need to be looking towards is a more decentralised, flexible model that obeys the principle of subsidiarity, decisions being made as close as possible to the places where they'll have an impact.

This is something that's particularly pressing and important in electricity generation - we need to encourage the model of local mutual ownership of wind farms, of solar panels, or run-of-river generating schemes and, in future, tidal generation.

If a multinational company sweeping into town and plans to build a windfarm on the hill, transforming the landscape, but the profits make no local impact, sweeping instead off to London - and all too often then straight into the nearest convenient tax haven - it's unsurprising if this seems an imposition, an insult to be resisted. If the wind farm is owned by, planned by the community, the benefits flowing down into town in the term of dividends on community bonds, funding for the local school and a new roof for the village hall, however, it will be seen, experienced very differently.

But we need to start thinking too about ways, in a time of increasing water stress, we can get back control over our water supplies, our electricity and gas grids, and more.

That's a big challenge for We Own It - and a good place to start is keeping what we still have. The NHS is a critical, popular issue that I'm sure the new organisation will be working on.

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