UK

Down With The Royals, Up With Democracy

Pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment.

This comparison of British royals to zoological specimens by novelist Hilary Mantel is but one of many ideas presented in Joan Smith’s book, Down With The Royals.

Down With The Royals by Joan Smith Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

Down With The Royals
by Joan Smith
Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

In three parts, Smith dissects the arguments for maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the arguments in favor of moving towards a republic.

A public debate on the issue is nearly impossible as the media exaggerates the royal family’s popularity. There are royal correspondents who spend their entire day finding the smallest detail to report on TV and in the press; this is also at the expense of important global affairs. On the other hand, contrasting views are belittled. When the organisation Republic holds a rally, attendance is restricting and under-reported in the news.

Fundamentally, a hereditary monarchy, Smith points out, is undemocratic, expensive and unaccountable.

Long ago, King George III made a deal with the government after racking up huge debt. The royal family would receive a fixed annual salary and have their debts removed, in exchange for handing over the rents from their crown land to government. Today, this results in the royal family receiving an salary of £40 million each year. The revenue from crown land is around £200 million. So, it seems like the Parliament is making a profit.

However, the true costs are hidden. “One significant element that doesn’t appear in the official estimates is the cost of providing security for numerous members of the British royal family, along with the bill for royal visits.” The cost of royal security is estimated at £100 million. Adding other costs, the actual cost of maintaining the royals is closer to £300 million. Equally important is the fact that the royal family doesn’t publish full accounts and leaves out the most expensive elements, like security. This royals are costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds each year, far more than any of the other remaining royal families left in the world, such as Sweden or Denmark.

The royal family isn’t a good caretaker either, allowing important heritage properties fall into disrepair. Almost 40 percent of the royal estate’s building were not in an ‘acceptable’ condition in 2012, according to the House of Commons public accounts committee.

But what about tourism, defenders of the monarchy may shout. This is another myth that royalists spread.

Smith shows that rates of tourism have no connection to Royal events like weddings or births. In fact, the evidence points to a decline in tourism during years of major events. This makes sense when you think about it. How many Europeans and international tourists plan their vacations to coincide with the one or two days a year when the royal family is out in public celebrating a wedding or birth. Tourism, like in France and the US, does not rely on having a king or queen living in a royal palace when you arrive.

The final claim by royalists that Smith dissolves is that the Queen and her family remain neutral when it comes to ruling the country and influences government. This is another myth to be undone.

From supporting Fascist Germany to Apartheid South Africa in the past to repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar today, the royal family has a long history of supporting regimes for their own self interest. Their partisan views have been spun by the media out of public debate, but friends of the royals have confirmed that they are ‘natural-born Tories’.

The Queen as head of state holds and uses the power of veto over government legislation. Whitehall papers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to this process, known as “Queen’s consent” or “Prince’s consent”. We don’t know how many bills have been amended or vetoed altogether before reaching Parliament. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is known for his meetings with high-ranking government officials and memos; all of which are kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

Queen Elizabeth II is also the Head of the Commonwealth, an organisation with a combined population of 2.1 billion people, yet her role is neither elected nor subject to a fixed term. 16 nations, including my own (Canada), count Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. This relic of the British empire and its colonies and territories is entirely at odds with current notions of democracy and human rights. The export of parliamentary democracy and common law to these nations and others continues to face outdated problems, such as ‘first past the post’ voting and anti-homosexuality legislation. How can one family and one person have so much power, in perpetuity?

In every area of modern society, the royal family is long overdue for a replacement. They are a drain on taxpayers money. They have ruled for over 1,000 years without any say from the people. They ally themselves with repressive regimes and influence British legislation. And they use the media as a shield against public debate and any means of accountability. On every issue, the royalists are living a fairy tale.

God save the Queen? Hardly, as Smith concludes:

In the twenty-first century, we shouldn’t still be imploring an imaginary deity to save an inherited head of state. If we can only find the courage, we are perfectly capable of saving ourselves.

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The Four Horsemen Rest Within the Security Council

The United Nations and its Security Council were formed at the end of World War II. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also known as the Permanent Five or P5, include the following five governments: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These five nations have endowed themselves with protecting the security of the world. But how much peace (and war) have followed them since taking up this mantle.

The P5 won WWII. The Axis powers–chiefly Germany, Japan and Italy–lost. Therefore, the P5 got to dictate the rules. This system of winners rule while the rest of us are seen as causality needs to end.

The P5 are the biggest arms dealers on the planet and pose an incredible risk to all human beings thanks to their massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons. They’ve had over 70 years at the wheel. Maybe it’s time for them to step aside, so the rest of us can solve the world’s problems.

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Like many others, I think the Security Council’s record shows that “security” is only for a select few. Together, these five representatives have undeniable power to shape global affairs. Power to unleash global calamity on a Biblical scale: “And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” (John 6:8).

Nuclear war and environmental catastrophe are two realities of today–realities created and owned by the P5. Two millennia after that Biblical prophecy, the UN Security Council has unleashed its own Four Horsemen–War, Death, Famine and Conquest–and must take responsibility for their costs.

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War Profiteers

Globally, the P5 are the five biggest arms dealers. Together, they sell a total of 20.45 billion U.S. dollars worth of weapons per year. This is more than triple the next 10 biggest arms dealers, who happen to be P5 allies within NATO. The United States is overwhelmingly the biggest weapons exported, with nearly double the sales of its former Cold War adversary, Russia.

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Arms sales per year, in millions of US dollars. Data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Guns, ammunition, tanks, bombs, missiles, battleships, warplanes: these are some of the products the P5 nations are selling all over the world. The P5 aren’t fighting on their own soil. Instead they help protracted conflicts go on far longer than they should.

Two-thirds of UK weapons have been sold to Middle Eastern countries, since 2010, where instability has fed into increased risk of terror threats to Britain and across the West. Since 2010 Britain has sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House “Freedom in the world” report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.

Russia has supplied arms to several countries where they risk being used to commit serious human rights violations. It does not publish arms export details, but 10 per cent of all Russian arms exports are believed to go to Syria, making it the country’s largest arms supplier. Transfers include missiles and missile launchers, anti-tank missiles for the Russian-made T72 tank, and MIG jet fighters jet aircraft. Russia also supplied AK-style assault rifles to Libya under al-Gaddafi. As of 2004, “Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s”. Russia continues to supply helicopter gunships to Sudan, where they have been used to attack civilians in Darfur and Southern Kordofan.

As the main arms supplier to Egypt, the US authorized the sale of small arms, millions of rounds of ammunition and chemical agents for riot control, despite the security forces’ violent crackdown on protesters. Yemen was also supplied with small arms, chemical agents and armoured vehicles, and Bahrain with small arms. It provides Colombia’s security forces with arms, military aid and training, despite their persistent violations of human rights.

For decades, the United States and Russia fought their Civil War through proxy wars of already struggling nations. Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have all been victims of these powerful countries warmongering and arm dealings. These two nations, like the rest of the P5, continue to wield power through its arms sales. The global arms trade is the worst combination of political conquest and economic gain.

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The history of war will continue to maim and injure civilians as weapons, like land mines, continue to lay in peaceful and conflict-ridden lands. On average 5,000 people are killed by land mines each year. Millions of land mines are hidden in the ground in 78 countries. The United States, which doesn’t fear mines itself, has a stockpile of around 10.4 million anti-personal land mines–the 3rd largest arsenal in the world. Once placed in the ground, these weapons are incredibly expensive to clear. Land mines cost somewhere in the region of $3 to produce, and a staggering $1,000 to clear per unit.

In 1997, in response to a global, Nobel Prize-winning campaign, the U.N. adopted an international Mine Ban Treaty, which is currently signed by 162 countries. Under the Mine Ban Treaty, the Parties undertake not to use, produce, stockpile or transfer anti-personnel mines and ensure their destruction. Thirty-six countries, including China, Russia and the United States, which together may hold tens of millions of stockpiled antipersonnel mines, are not yet party to the Convention. The three countries continue to manufacture land mines.

The P5 are the primary sellers of tools of war. They also are the primary hindrances to obtaining justice once the bullets stop flying. The International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Unlike France and the UK, which are a party to the International Criminal Court, China is opposed to the Court (like North Korea and Somalia), the US no longer intends to ratify the treaty (in line with Sudan) and Russia has not ratified its agreement (akin to Syria and Yemen). The majority of P5 nations prefer to protect themselves, preventing justice to be served for crimes against humanity.

They are not world leaders. They are cowards. And should be treated as such.

 

Certain Death

Unfortunately, the Cold War hasn’t melted away. And neither has the threat of nuclear annihilation.

There are currently 15,375 nuclear devices in the world. Of these, 98 percent (or 15,045) are held by the P5. The U.S. and Russia account for nearly 93 percent of all nuclear weapons. These two nations have it within their power to end the threat of nuclear war.

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Data source: Ploughshares Fund

The other three nations with large stockpiles of nuclear weapons–Pakistan, India and Israel–received assistance from the U.S. in developing their own nuclear programs. Rather than creating a safer world following WWII, the P5 have made the world more turbulent. They split into Eastern and Western superpower blocks during the Cold War, which has continued following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite their differences, the Eastern and Western  blocks agree that they should continue holding the balance of power globally. Worst of all, the P5 have a poor track record when it comes to supporting the means for peace.

Last month, UN General Assembly (UNGA) members have defied the P5 by voting to ban nuclear weapons. The UNGA’s First Committee passed an historic resolution to begin negotiations for a legally binding nuclear weapons ban treaty next year. The landmark resolution passed 123 to 38 – with 16 countries abstaining – and succeeded despite smaller states accusing nuclear-armed countries of “pressuring them to oppose the ban.

The most vocal supporters of the treaty included Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa. Even North Korea voted in favor of the treaty, which will attempt to bring in a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

Some nuclear-armed states abstained on the vote, including China, India and Pakistan, while opponents included the United States, Russia, the UK, France and Israel. Green Party MSP John Finnie accused the UK government of giving up on nuclear disarmament:

“Instead of siding with the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in voting to set up a conference to negotiate ways of prohibiting and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, the UK voted with the nuclear club states who continue to stand in the way of progress on disarmament.”

 

Global Famine

The most effective strategy to prevent war is to mitigate its causes. One of more overlooked (at least in news media) sparks for war is climate change.

Even the U.S. Department of Defense has recognized the danger, saying that “global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.” The problem of global climate change is directly linked to rapid industrialization, which provided incredible wealth in a handful of countries. The P5 nations, and their allies, being the biggest beneficiaries.

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Although the P5 nations today produce similar levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the trend hasn’t always been like this. China began industrialization far later than other nations but its high population is closing the cumulative gap. It’s also important to remember that much of China’s emissions are linked to the products shipped to European and American consumers. The United States, with its population of 300-plus million and long history of industrialization, has done more to cause climate change than any other nation.

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Cumulative national emissions between 1850 and 2007 (MT CO2e). Data source: World Resource Institute

The United States is responsible for at least 27 percent of global emissions. The European Union, including France and the UK, account for another 25 percent. At 8 percent, Russia has the lowest contribution among the P5 nations, although it is still a substantial amount. Like the issue of nuclear weapons, the P5 are among the top 5 polluters and are responsible for the damage caused by high industrialization on those affected by climate change.

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A study led by Jacob Schewe of Potsdam finds that “the combination of unmitigated climate change and further population growth will expose a significant fraction of the world population” to “chronic or absolute water scarcity.” Current agricultural models estimate that climate change will directly reduce food production from maize, soybeans, wheat and rice by as much as 43 percent by the end of the 21st century, encompassing a loss of between 400 and 2600 petacalories of food supply. But incorporating hydrological models reveals that when accounting for the decline of freshwater availability, there would be an additional loss of 600 to 2900 petacalories – potentially wiping out quantities equivalent to the total present-day food supply.

There’s an old saying that people revolt before they starve. This is the future that the highly-industrialized countries, especially the P5, have brought to bear. Climate refugees will join the movements of displaced people who have historically fled conflicts (worsened by the arms sales noted above) and environmental hazards, like earthquakes.

 

Conquest’s Victims

Environmental forced migrants are people who have to leave due to deteriorating environmental conditions, such as the slow deterioration of their environment due to deforestation or coastal deterioration. Environmental motivated migrants, on the other hand, are people who choose to leave to avoid possible future problems, such as declining crop productivity caused by desertification.

One example where climate change contributed to environmental displacement and ultimately an armed conflict is Syria.

Researchers acknowledge that many factors led to Syria’s uprising, including corrupt leadership, inequality, massive population growth, and the government’s inability to curb human suffering. But a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compiled statistics showing that water shortages in the Fertile Crescent in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey killed livestock, drove up food prices, sickened children, and forced 1.5 million rural residents to the outskirts of Syria’s jam-packed cities–just as that country was exploding with immigrants from the Iraq war. The suffering and social chaos caused by the drought were important drivers of the initial unrest.

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The five nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt collectively host over 4.7 million Syrian refugees. In contrast, the P5 host around 32 thousand; this equates to around one out of every 200 Syrian refugees. The P5 has a cumulative GDP fourteen times that of the five countries neighboring Syria.

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Syrian refugees resettled. Data source: Oxfam

These low figures of refuge offered by the P5 nations are even more shocking when you consider that the P5 nations are supplying weapons and bombing fighters in Syria as well as Iraq. Clearly, the world’s “most powerful” countries are not doing their fair share.

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What percentage of its “fair share” each country has actually pledged to resettle. Source: IRIN

Thanks to the legacy of the Iraq invasion led by the U.S. and the U.K., 3.9 million people were already internally displaced in Iraq before the war in Syria started.

Another region of the world where all of these issues–nuclear weapons, climate change, displacement of people–intersect is the Pacific Islands. The Marshall Islands are one of many that highlight these overlapping concerns.

The United States tested their nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s, causing scores of health problems and displacement. Now, climate change may wipe the Marshall Islands off the map, as sea levels rise. The United States in a pathetic excuse for a solution provides Marshall Islanders asylum. Unfortunately, they will become exiles to a nation underwater. Will the U.S. ever learn its lesson?!

The Security Council spend the past seven decades failing to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation, which they themselves created. Now, the world has to face the threat of climate change; also primarily caused by the P5 nations.

We can’t wait for their slow and inconsequential attempts to correct their own misbehavior. It’s up to all of us to demand change. The world depends on it.

Selling Off the UK Government to the Lowest Bidder

Government outsourcing–contracting private companies to provide public services–can produce amazing results. The process links government revenue with business tools. When a government’s own in-house capacity is limited, contracting private companies can be an essential solution, whether it’s providing stationary or building bridges.

Outsourcing can also be a stressful exercise, as John Glenn, American astronaut and the fifth person to go into space, responded when asked how he felt sitting in a space capsule getting ready to launch and listening to the countdown: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”

Shadow State by Alan White XX, pp.

Shadow State: Inside the Secret Companies that Run Britain
by Alan White
Oneworld, 320 pp.

Following the free-market philosophy of Margaret Thatcher, successive UK governments (whether Conservative or Labour, under Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron cabinets) have increasingly relied on massive private companies to provide essential services, like health care and prisons, previously handled by government departments. Research suggests the market for public service outsourcing has an annual turnover of £72 billion: about 24 percent of the spend on public services in the UK. Four companies dominate this landscape: G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita.

They also pay little in taxes. In November 2013 the National Audit Office (NAO) found that, despite holding government contracts worth around £4.5 billion, Atos and G4S paid no corporation tax at all in the UK in 2012. Capita only paid between £50 million and £56 million, while Serco paid £25 million.

In chapter after chapter, example after example, Alan White’s book Shadow State shines a light on the murky, highly lucrative world of government outsourcing and privatization in the United Kingdom. In addition to revealing the inner workings of the largest companies that perform public services, White examines the government’s responsibility to the public who use these services.

As Mark Fox of the British Service Association notes: “when you outsource or privatize…you don’t outsource political responsibility for things” (pp. 215). On the difficulty of holding the UK’s highly centralized government accountability, White notes: “sometimes things go wrong because of contractors, sometimes it’s almost entirely the government department’s fault, and most of the time it’s a combination of the two. But what’s most important is that if blame for poor performance often seems difficult to disentangle between state and private contractor, that’s hardly helped by the mechanisms we have in place to assess such projects” (pp. 151).

The state and the private contractors it hires wield incredible power in pursuit of profits and reduced budgets. Decisions are often tailored to the benefit of businesses and not citizens. White’s book shows why the private sector isn’t democratic, accountable or transparent. It doesn’t give the people who use the services a say. As shown in the cases below, these flaws lead to wasteful spending, injury and even death.

Outsourced Immigration: Dangerous and Unaccountable

In October 2010 Jimmy Mubenga died “a very public death on the last row of seats on a full British Airways flight that was sitting on the runway at Heathrow airport” (pp. 16). The flight was waiting to go to Luanda, Angola.

Handcuffed behind his back, Mubenga was saying “I don’t want to go” and “I can’t breathe” while three guards restrained him: two were sitting either side and held him down, pressing his head between his legs, while a third leaned over the passenger seat from the row in front and occasionally did the same when he managed to pushed back up. The three guards worked for G4S, which at the time had been contracted to oversee Home Office deportations.

Mubenga, who had fled Angola with his family in 1994 after the government killed his father-in-law and threatened him, was now crying for help. The technique used to restrain Mubenga, which is strictly prohibited because it could result in a form of suffocation known as positional asphyxia, was nicknamed “carpet karaoke” by G4S guards. According to one witness, Mubenga called for help around 50 times as he slowly suffocated. He soon lost consciousness and died of cardiac arrest.

In 2014, the G4S guards were acquitted of manslaughter, despite evidence of racism and denying pushing him down; they claimed that he put himself into that position, bent over in his seat.

Jimmy Mubenga is not the only person to have been restrained to death by guards from outsourcing companies. The use of force during deportations is now commonplace, as are serious injuries sustained by asylum seekers and other deportees. The 2008 Medical Justice report, Outsourcing Abuse, documented the numerous injuries sustained by asylum seekers in detention and during forcible deportations. G4S came out as the worst ‘offender’.

Physical harm, including death, has been reported in several sectors operated by outsourcing companies. Yarl’s Wood, an immigration removal detention centre operated by the outsourcing firm Serco, is a case in point. Located in Bedfordshire, this centre houses adult women and adult family groups awaiting immigration clearance. It also houses “a culture of abuse, racism and violence” according to a Daily Mirror undercover investigation. Women are subjected to sexual advances, abuse and assault by the male security guards, including a guard getting a woman pregnant. Guards use the threat of deportation to silence women forced to have inappropriate relations. One woman had been held for four years, which, when one considers the fact that none of these people have been charged with an offence, seems needlessly cruel. Despite these stories and investigations, Serco’s contract to run Yarl’s Wood was renewed in 2014 for eight more years, and it was paid £70 million for the job.

White notes that “there’s a clear need for our legal and political systems to improve the standards of accountability and it extends far beyond this case or other assaults.” As Clare Sambrook pointed out to White in 2013: “G4S [and other outsourcing companies] operate[s] in many countries where such matters don’t come to light” (pp.26).

The Guardian, which broke the story of Mubenga’s death, only realized there was something up because its reporters tracked posts from passengers on the plane who were using Twitter. Because private companies are accountable to their shareholders and not the taxpayers who fund their contracts, transparency is often lacking. In the aftermath of Mubenga’s death, shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan wrote to the four companies responsible for most of the outsourced work involving detaining and transporting suspects and criminals. He got mixed results (pp. 167):

“Serco responded in the most detail, closely followed by Sodexo. GEOAmey refused to divulge any information, instead directing my request to the Ministry of Justice. G4S did not provide any information directly, instead mentioning that the Ministry of Justice and Home Office would respond formally. Unfortunately, neither did.”

It needs to be said that government also has its role in these failures. As White notes, many problems are due to chaotic governance, not the agents of the state. An exchange from the “Atos Work Capability Assessments”, 17 January 2013, between Labour MP Kevan Jones and Conservative MP Robert Halfon is helpful in highlighting both the lack of accountability by government officials who sign outsourcing contracts and their inability to stop subsequent contracts to under-performing firms (pp. 54):

Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the first contract with Atos was introduced by the previous government, but why did the preset government renew and extend that contract even though they knew about all the problems that he and others have raised in the House?

Mr. Halfon: This is where I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was very disturbed when Atos got the contract for the personal independence payments.

Mr. Jones: That happened under this government.

Mr. Halfon: Yes, that is what I am saying. The reasons that were given included the fact that the infrastructure was already in place, and the cost of changing the contractor.

The current system is clearly in a dysfunctional state.

Criminal Justice For Sale: Making Things Worse

The private sector’s role in delivering detention services, for adults and children, is growing but not leading to improved conditions, as Chapter 4 shows. Once people leave detention, they face a probation system that is flawed and seems to be working against them.

In April 2012, HMP Oakwood, in Wolverhampton, opened at a cost of £180 million. The G4S-run prison would house more than 1,600 inmates. The jail was soon branded “Jokewood” due to repeated negative news headlines. There was stories of prison gangs running the institution and protests, where inmates accessed the roof for more than five hours. One prisoner told the Guardian (pp. 83):

“I’ve been in jails all over the country. But this was the worst. It’s a shit-hole staffed by kids who should be stacking shelves.” He added that it was easy to get drugs and alcohol: “It’s easy to get hooch, even easier to get Black Mamba [synthetic cannabis]. The parcels are chucked over the fence.”

Of the 13 private prisons in England Wales, “Oakwood and Thameside in London received a rating of one out of four (‘overall performance is of serious concern’), who two others had a two rating (‘overall performance is of concern’)” (pp. 84). This amounts to 30 percent of private prisons being of concern. What is the figure for publicly run prisons? Nine percent. Of the 121 publicly run prisons, only one received a ranking of one (0.8 percent), and only ten achieved a rating of two (8 percent). “Violence is four times higher at Serco-run HMP Doncaster that at a comparable-sized state-run prison” (pp. 85).

The ratings come after private security companies G4S and Serco came under fire for overcharging the government by “tens of millions of pounds” for providing electronic tags for criminals. It triggered a government-wide review of all contracts held by the two firms.

Services within the courts have also been negatively affected by the injection of private companies. A 2013 statistical bulletin from the MoJ showed that courts weren’t being provided with interpreters nearly once every ten times. On each occasion this led to days being lost at crown court, it cost around £10,000–by December 2013 it had cost the Crown Prosecution Service around £17 million in total (pp. 93). These costs and delays were widespread following the government’s move away from the National Register for Public Service Interpreters, an independent voluntary regulator for the 2,200 qualified, largely self-employed, interpreters to private companies.

One such company was Applied Language Services (ALS), which was acquired by Capita before their £90 million, five-year contract was signed. ALS/Capita immediately started to cut pay to interpreters, resulting in a boycott. Staff shortages impaired the courts weekly: murder cases were delayed, friends had to interpret for each other and cases were adjourned due to lack of interpreter. The government eventually admitted its failure, as one Liberal Democrat MP said (pp. 92):

“The department did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned, and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts. The MoJ’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic.”

In a similar vain, the Probation Service were being outsourced to a handful of private providers, without any meaningful piloting or testing, while also severing the working relationship with local authorities, the health service and the police. Shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan wrote about the dangers to public safety that privatization has brought to the Probation Service (pp. 105):

“I’ve heard some truly alarming reports on the chaos privatization is causing: staff shortages caused by rocketing sickness levels and dozens of unfilled vacancies are crippling the service.

“As a result, a backlog of cases is building up, including offenders who have committed serious, violent crimes like domestic violence. Oversight of sex offenders has been handed to staff without the right expertise. High-risk cases aren’t receiving sufficient supervision. Court reports are going unwritten. Senior management time has been sucked into restructuring, neglecting day-to-day duties rehabilitating offenders. New software designed to assess the risk that offenders pose to the public was rushed into service without adequate staff training. It is a shocking state of affairs, which could have catastrophic consequences for public safety.”

Regarding the justice system in the UK, White concludes (pp. 108):

“Whether it’s in the courts, prisons or probation, the Ministry of Justice has outsourced at a breakneck speed in recent years. In part, it’s been done to save money–but all three cases there’s an earnest belief that private companies can bring imagination and creativity to the sectors within which they operate. However, the problem is that the decisions to outsource appear not to have yielded any particularly impressive results yet, while the rush to impose this brave new vision has upset established workers within the justice sector.”

Private Health Care: Poor Value for Money

A final sector to examine is health care. Founded in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has seen a steady shift towards private firms in recent years, with a rise in the proportion of the NHS budget going to firms such as Virgin Care, Care UK and Bupa. Department of Health figures show that the amount of its funding that has gone to “independent sector providers” more than doubled from £4.1 billion in 2009-10 to £8.7 billion in 2015-16.

One rationale claimed by politicians for the privatization of essential services, like health care, is reducing cost. However, as White shows, private contractors use complicated accounting techniques, networks of corporate partnerships and debt-inducing loans to shift their financial risk from themselves onto taxpayers. Private contractors seek to maximize the number of transactions regardless of demand. Many NHS provider operate a loss-leader model where they take annual losses, surviving on funding secured from investors on the promise of more NHS work. “What would happens if this model failed before it succeeded?” White asks. And answers (pp. 124):

“In 2008 Circle took out a £42 million loan from Barclays to open a new independent sector treatment centre at Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Centre. It was to be repaid through income from the local NHS buying its services. It seemed Circle couldn’t meet the five percent interest rate, so the NHS paid the bill in full, as apparently the firm had an ‘unconditional right’ to compel it to do so.”

Circle Health is owned by a parent company, Circle Holdings plc, which in turn is owned by a series of hedge funds. In just one year, their profits have gone up 160 percent (!), from £64.6 million in 2010/11 to £170.4 million in 2011/12. This type of corporate welfare has become commonplace. Private businesses profit when things go smooth and taxpayers pay the price when things fail.

Social care is another area the government has been outsourcing, with troubling results. There are around five thousand young people in residential care homes–and around three quarters of these homes are run by private companies. In 2011, the top five providers had turned a profit of £30 million. Companies, like Sovereign and 3i, make these high profits by buying up cheap housing stock around the country, to which vulnerable children can be shunted. By shifting childcare from charities to private equity firms, staffing has reduced and children have been abused. In a 2012 report, published by Social Enterprise UK, figures show “that children’s homes in England–caring for 3,040 boys and 1,800 girls–had reported 631 suspected cases of young residents being sold for sex in the past five years. These are just the reported cases: the true figure is likely to be far higher” (pp. 130). The private sector’s business model of moving vulnerable children around exacerbates some of the problems they’re already facing.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the normal discussions regarding conflicts of interest and inaccurate contract pricing, the public (in the UK and elsewhere) need to question the fundamental theory of government outsourcing and privatization. Unlike public infrastructure, essential services are a matter of life and death. Immigration, criminal justice and health care are fundamentally human endeavors. As Peter Holbrook, the CEO of Social Enterprise UK, notes: “most public services rely on human relationships, so upscaling leads to a huge degradation in the quality of service” (pp. 131).

The growing dominance of a few private contractors has lead the UK government to label them as “too big to fail”, meaning that their financial risk is ultimately held by taxpayers. As the world saw with the global financial crisis in 2008, companies were making record profits while the general public went unprotected from corporate greed. Ultimately, the outsourcing of a wide variety of public services to a few bodies is a risk we can not afford.

Increased accountability and transparency are fundamental to preventing the problems discussed above. One of the best ways to achieve these ends in by implementing local solutions on a smaller scale. The Paddington Development Trust (PDT) is a great example of this. The PDT runs youth services, health centres and academies, has refurbished community centres, and has been involved in many more projects, most of which are designed to create employment and business opportunities to residents. The fundamental decision for a government is whether to let money go to companies or inject it into local organizations.

Alan White closes by balancing the gloomy present with an optimistic future (pp. 249-250):

“The general public barely knows this industry exists. Yet it’s an industry that has been responsible for such poor quality service that lives have been lost, that the nation was embarrassed on a global stage in 2012, that the government has been defrauded, that vulnerable people, young and old, around the country, have been repeatedly let down by the state, and still it remains one of the things on which the political class pins its hope for the delivery of public services. Without true transparency, accountability and a market that allows a proper diversity of providers to flourish, the same horrifying stories will be generated, time and again. Until then, the shadow state continues to thrive.”

Rich People Don’t Create Jobs

So, if rich people do not create the jobs, what does?

A healthy economic ecosystem — one in which most participants (especially the middle class) have plenty of money to spend.

Over the last couple of years, a rich investor and entrepreneur named Nick Hanauer has annoyed all manner of other rich investors and entrepreneurs by explaining this in detail. Hanauer was the founder of online advertising company aQuantive, which Microsoft bought for $6.4 billion.

What creates a company’s jobs, Hanauer explains, is a healthy economic ecosystem surrounding the company, which starts with the company’s customers.

The company’s customers buy the company’s products. This, in turn, channels money to the company and allows the company to hire employees to produce, sell, and service those products. If the company’s customers and potential customers go broke, the demand for the company’s products will collapse. And the company’s jobs will disappear, regardless of what the entrepreneurs or investors do.

Now, again, entrepreneurs are an important part of the company-creation process. And so are investors, who risk capital in the hope of earning returns. But, ultimately, whether a new company continues growing and creates self-sustaining jobs is a function of the company’s customers’ ability and willingness to pay for the company’s products, not the entrepreneur or the investor capital. Suggesting that “rich entrepreneurs and investors” create the jobs, therefore, Hanauer observes, is like suggesting that squirrels create evolution.

Or, to put it even more simply, it’s like saying that a seed creates a tree. The seed does not create the tree. The seed starts the tree. But what actually grows and sustains the tree is the combination of the DNA in the seed and the soil, sunshine, water, atmosphere, nutrients, and other factors that nurture it. Plant a seed in an inhospitable environment, like a desert or on Mars, and the seed won’t create anything. It will die.

I found this explanation by Henry Blodget of Business Insider helpful in clarifying the limits of supply-side economics. His simple analogy on seeds is perfect in addressing the myth that “Rich people create the jobs.”

We, the people, are the true creators of jobs. Not the companies, entrepreneurs and rich investors who keep trying to sell themselves as saviors of unemployment.

ed-ao139_stevem_g_20110825162903For decades, neo-conservative politicians and economists have pushed the idea of ‘trickle-down economics’ as a reason to cut taxes for the wealthy and remove government regulations. However, the opposite appears true. A Washington Post article shows recent trends that lower taxes correlate with lower growth. Understanding this is important because companies and the wealthy lobby governments to create tax laws that disproportionately help themselves, while placing much of the burden from revenue generation to low-income workers.

Revenue from income and corporate taxes helps fund the schools that educate a workforce. It provides for health care so that workers can get back to work. And it provides welfare, like unemployment benefits, for when the short-term employment that entrepreneurs and new businesses actually create disappears. A functional society filled with well-paid employment opportunities actually creates its own self-sustaining jobs.

Data from the Economic Policy Institute shows the result of tailoring taxes under the belief that “Rich people create the jobs”. In the United States, from 1917 to 1981, the top 10 percent captured (only!) 31 percent of the growth in incomes. Following the presidency of Ronald Reagan, they have taken all of it.

The 1980s free-market/smaller-government system of ‘Reaganomics’ (also used by Margaret Thatcher in the U.K.) has left a legacy of declining incomes for nine out of ten workers over the past two decades. In addition to a lack of job creation, policies like tax cuts for the rich don’t increase incomes for workers either.

income-inequality-1989-2008

A New Chapter

The past two years have seen a complete change in my life´s focus. This came about from my first international experience, working with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Ghana at the end of 2012.

The next year – 2013 – say we go in and out of different project management jobs, as I stuggled out of an engineering-focus and more into a development-focus. I attempted to get a second international placement but did not succeed. I volunteered with a number of organizations, as a way to increase my understanding of poverty and global development work.

Luckily, 2014 will be much more promising and transformative in relation to my new work focus.

I will be living and working in Nicaragua during the month of May, in partnership with Project HOPE, an Edmonton-created initiative between Ceiba Assoication and MacEwan University. Myself, my co-team leader, and 11 students will be working on the repair of 6 classrooms in Esteli, as well as the construction of a multipurpose room with the dual ability to provide a space for teacher planning and student counciling.

When I return to Canada, I hope to set out new horizons that include more travel and work in other countries. Grad school is also my intention starting in September.

Stay tuned for more updates.