Privatising the UK one piece at a time - Monocolumn | Monocle


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14 March 2012

If you’re a resident of the UK, a frequent visitor to London, or one of those Hanseatic Anglophiles who’d love nothing more than owning a pied-à-terre in Mayfair and a quaint cottage in Cotswolds but are terrified by the poor state of Britain’s infrastructure, then I have some good news.

Off of the last week’s reports that suggested that some of England’s police services should be privatised (including certain investigations and even beat patrols), I’ve decided to embrace this latest round of out-sourcing of responsibility and will shortly mount a bid to take over the Department for Transport. As the current UK government has made it abundantly clear it’s not interested in maintaining the most basic of services that are expected of a semi-functional state, the next obvious step is to turn all ministries over to the private sector.

While this is certainly an appalling admission of defeat, the only alternative at this point is to do away with democratic process and let the UK go to the highest bidder. As this has already happened in many corners of the country, better to get the ministries auctioned off as swiftly as possible so national debt can be paid down and possibly more dynamic groups can get on with running the country.

The key issue is whether the UK will still be a country or little more than a brand that’s owned by a consortium of investors. As Brand Britain is already a term that’s become a favourite with this nation’s diplomats and related salespeople, there shouldn’t be too much trouble selling the concept. Besides, their views won’t be of much use as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will attract a host of bidders – mostly from the hotel sector.

The FCO in Whitehall will likely be turned into luxury flats and a hotel. Naturally, the same operator will also overhaul most of the UK’s high profile missions into five-star properties with concierges in charge of routine consular issues – like visa applications and lost passports. 

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be broken up with various parts being sold off to Live Nation and the Qataris. The Ministry of Defence’s responsibilities will be handed over to a network of security firms, with national defence now the responsibility of a new consortium of ex-Heathrow security staff. Overseas missions will be covered by a special crowdsourcing initiative managed by The Department of Health will see a tough fight by the big global pharmaceutical companies but eventually Boots will come out victorious.

As for other departments and ministries, it’s pretty easy to figure out who’ll end up owning what: the Ministry of Justice will be bought by the producers of Judge Judy in the US. All courthouses will be wired to broadcast live around the clock with sponsorship deals from major legal firms. Perhaps the Department of Energy and Climate Change will be sold off to the Norwegians? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could be handled by a conglomerate of PepsiCo, McDonald’s and Tesco.

If all of this sounds more than a little absurd, it is. What’s worrying is that nonsensical proposals to hand over policing to private firms can even get as far as potential tender stage.

This column recently argued in favour of the state playing a role in running national airlines in certain cases (a concept that won a lot of support from readers) and there needs to be a much more vigorous debate about how tax dollars are being deployed next to the simplistic wisdom of letting other people do the job.

On Tuesday I had lunch with the editor of one of Germany’s most respected news weeklies and we discussed the state of Brand Britain. Over a plate of rare roast beef and Bratkartoffeln, we touched on the sorry state of the UK’s basic services, the rather late in the day push to launch a ‘Made in Britain’ initiative and the loss of knowledge in maritime technology.

We concluded that it’s important to have a policy of making things and there’s no shame in being a manufacturer of sprockets in rural Bavaria.


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