Monday, November 15, 2010

Reducing asset inequality

Phillip Blond's Res Publica think tank has a new report out, about different ways of supporting community groups to take over the management and ownership of assets which are currently owned by the state.

The report cites a number of sensible ideas which other people have come up with, such as letting unemployed people work and receive a 'Community Allowance' in addition to their benefits; supporting community groups to be able to use empty shops in deprived areas; and urging local authorities to have a strategy for asset management which gives community groups opportunities to take over the management or ownership of state assets, rather than just selling them all off to balance the books.

There isn't anything particularly new here (which is a good thing - for once Blond has drawn on existing ideas rather than coming up with his own wheezes), so by the usually abysmal standards of Blond's work, it is quite good - though very light on detail. There is, for example, a grand total of one paragraph on the risks involved in transferring assets to community groups, which concludes “there are risks but they can be minimised and managed – there is plenty of experience to draw on. The secret is all parties working together.”

For some weird reason, the press release for this report is all about how this is like selling off council houses and will reduce asset inequality. I guess this is an attempt to interest Tories in a set of technocratic leftie policies designed to make modest improvements to the delivery of public services, but the fact it is being spun in this way suggests that Blond doesn't actually understand his own pamphlet.

In particular, if transferring assets to community groups is meant to be an alternative to privatisation, why not follow the logic of this argument through. There are a wide range of public services which are currently being delivered by private companies which are dependent on money from the state. Rather than asset strip the public sector, why not start by breaking up companies like Capita and Serco and transferring their assets and contracts to local community groups?

Instead of the profits from delivering public services going to wealthy shareholders, thus further increasing asset inequality, these resources could be redirected to local community groups and their members in low income communities. If you want to reduce asset inequality, as these "Red Tories" aim to do, then it will involve taking on vested interests in the private sector, not just attacking the state.


At 1:28 pm , Blogger teekblog said...

Well said Sir.

All too often the State is seen as the (single, or at least most important) barrier to ordinary folk living fulfilling lives - the theory being that transferring assets/power/accountability away from the State will improve the situation.

Just as often, perhaps more so, the concentration of wealth and capacity in the unaccountable private sector serves just as big a role in depriving communities and individuals of their treasured capabilities.

So yes, the concentration of power in corporations is as important to break up as is that in the hands of the State - beginning to sounds like a (small-l) liberal :-)

At 2:18 pm , Blogger richard.blogger said...

Glad to see that I am not the only person to see the Tories new found interest in "mutuals" to be nothing about communities and everything about profit.

Although the NHS white paper spells out that "this is not privatisation" it clearly is. The NHS white paper prefers "employee-led social enterprises" but the forthcoming white paper from the cabinet office will say (according to the Guardian) that public services will be allowed to go to "mutuals" running for-profit. Further, the Spending Review document even goes as far as to say that by law a fixed proportion of public services must not be publicly owned, and, bizarrely in these times of a shortage of cash, the government will provide money to subsidise companies to do this.

Blond always appears to be someone out of his depth and his "discussion" with Mehdi Hasan on Today this morning shows that his arguments fall apart at the slightest push. When prompted about where the money would come from for these "mutuals" he claimed that the City would provide it. Really? For all our hospitals? Even those with outstanding PFI debts? Really?

What we need is for Labour to be principled. Ed Miliband must say that public assets should remain public and that any asset "mutualised" will be taken back into public ownership without compensation under the next Labour government. Taking hospitals and schools back into public ownership will be popular with voters. And hopefully such an announcement will deter the City from providing any cash for this car boot sale.


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