Sunday, 30 January 2011

Peter Wilby in 'The New Statesman'

The penny is at last beginning to drop about this government. Its policies have nothing to do with "empowering" ordinary citizens and everything to do with empowering the corporate sector. Following the publication of the Health Bill, with its plans to hand commissioning of secondary care to GP practices, most commentators have grasped that it won't usually be Dr Findlay getting on the blower to the local cottage hospital to have your ingrowing toenail seen to, but an impersonal private company that will say you've got to travel 40 miles to a hospital you've never heard of.
This is because, under competition laws, commissioning GPs will be obliged to consider "any willing provider", private or public. And once they discover the complications that entails, GPs will happily delegate commissioning to private companies. So the corporate sector is empowered twice over.
Again, most "free schools" won't be run by parents. They will be managed, on contract, by private companies such as Serco, VT Group and Edison, which already run some state schools, local authority departments and Ofsted inspections. In time, these companies will build up chains of schools, with brand identities that become as familiar as Tesco or Next. They will have their own teacher training and curriculum. Their economies of scale will make it hard for a community-run school to compete.
That is not a product of my fevered, leftist imagination. The companies, if asked, are quite open about their intentions: one executive told me he hoped to run a thousand schools. They are unfazed by the prohibition on providers making a profit. All they have to do, they explain, is form a charitable trust to own schools and then contract services from themselves.
Then there is the Localism Bill. Does anyone believe that its "neighbourhood forums", which will have power to draw up plans for a local area and put them to a referendum, won't be dominated by well-heeled business people? Indeed, the bill encourages commercial involvement in forums. Companies will no doubt soften local opposition to their plans by, for example, promising to tackle the potholes that elected councils no longer have money to repair.
So welcome to David Cameron's "big society", in which the corporate sector runs your school, hospital and neighbourhood. You still have a vote, but it will be about as much use as a vote in Tunisia under the Ben Ali regime.

No comments:

Post a Comment