Ironies of state firm sell-offs

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I guess as a Royal Mail manager, Paul Kelly has to believe his own propaganda (“Delivering privatisation”, The Southern, July 25).

The irony that English Tories (the breed is happily all but extinct up here) still cannot grasp is that most privatisation now results in British state-owned companies being taken over either by a private European conglomerate or by a company whose ownership can be traced back to a enterprise 51 per cent or more owned by a European government – usually French, German or Spanish.

This has happened across the board with power utilities, bus and train operators, airport owners and now the Royal Mail, just about the last piece of family silver left for a near-bankrupt English Treasury to sell.

My guess is that what is left of Royal Mail will be taken over by Deutsche Post, who already own a number of apparently “private” courier companies and who, like Deutsche Bahn (German state-owned railways), have an ever-greater share of British services and utilities.

The further irony is that it is because of restrictions put on the investing and borrowing powers of British state-owned enterprises by the Treasury that they are unable to act in the same commercial way as the likes of Deutsche Post – a truly classic catch-22.

In principle, I have no problem with European private or state ownership. European enterprises are on the whole better managed and take a much more measured and long-term view of investment than the get-rich-quick, asset-stripping approach that characterises the uniquely greedy and short term form of capitalism that afflicts Britain.

The problem arises in the complete lack of public accountability. To a huge enterprise like Deutsche Post, Royal Mail will be a tiny subsidiary whose users will have no recourse in the event of bad service, either through policy makers, the parliamentary process or consumer groups. Ultimately, any multi-national enterprise does not have to worry too much about public perceptions of what will, for them, be a small, offshore operation.

Meanwhile, Mr Kelly should not be surprised if his assurances about service continuity are regarded with cynicism. Those of us of a certain age remember similar platitudes 50 odd years ago when our rail network was decimated by the infamous Dr Beeching. Replacement buses would pick up the task, we were told. Most services lasted a matter of months.

I predict the same fate for the likes of posties’ conditions of work, one-price delivery and for such rural post offices as still exist.

Richard West

Inch Park

Kelso