Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1777

Gestures can’t hide Labour’s failures

This article is over 22 years, 7 months old
There is one fact that all the spin surrounding chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-budget statement cannot hide. Under New Labour investment in public services in Britain will only just reach the level it was at under John Major's Tory government-and that's after Brown's supposed major boost to public spending.
Issue 1777

There is one fact that all the spin surrounding chancellor Gordon Brown’s pre-budget statement cannot hide. Under New Labour investment in public services in Britain will only just reach the level it was at under John Major’s Tory government-and that’s after Brown’s supposed major boost to public spending.

Even more shockingly, New Labour is still investing a smaller proportion of Britain’s wealth in public services than Margaret Thatcher did in any of her 11 years in power. The facts were spelt out in a report by the authoritative Institute for Fiscal Studies last week.

‘Public investment rates seen over the years 1997 to 2000 remain lower than at any time since the Second World War,’ said the institute’s Sarah Love. Government claims that its Private Finance Initiative and Public-Private Partnership schemes will deliver investment in schools, hospitals and transport were also shattered by the report.

Even after adding all the PFI and similar schemes to government spending the proportion of Britain’s output invested in public services is less than a quarter of what it was in 1975, and half what it was in 1985. Whatever gestures Brown makes in his pre-budget statement cannot bridge that gulf. No wonder transport, the NHS, education and public housing in Britain are in such a shocking state.

Even a government commissioned report found last week that Britain now has the worst transport system in Europe. The Commission for Integrated Transport found that road congestion in Britain was over twice as bad as in Germany or France. People in Britain now spend over double the time travelling to work each day as in Italy, due to congested roads and poor public transport. Things are not much better in the health service.

For all New Labour’s talk of increased funding, everyone who uses the NHS knows it is in a shocking state and getting worse, despite all the hard work of the doctors, nurses and other NHS staff. The price of New Labour’s failure to tackle the NHS crisis is tragic deaths like that of 53 year old Brenda Jones.

She died on a trolley in the corridor of Leicester Royal Infirmary on Tuesday of last week. Brenda had collapsed at home with breathing difficulties. She waited six hours for an ambulance. Then she was left on a trolley in the hospital corridor awaiting proper examination and treatment.

‘All I could do was hold her and try to reassure her. By the early hours she was going downhill fast but there was still no bed,’ said her husband, Allan.

Bailout for PPP

New Labour’s only answer to the crisis in our public services is more privatisation. Health secretary Alan Milburn has already announced that he plans to hand whole chunks of the NHS to private health firms, by contracting treatment out to private firms on a long term basis.

He and his government are still pressing ahead with their disastrous Private Finance Initiative, despite every scheme so far cutting beds and staff numbers. The government is also still pressing ahead with a similarly insane privatisation scheme on London’s tube.

It is pushing through its Public-Private Partnership despite a report by the Transport for London agency this week showing it will be more expensive than keeping the tube public.

London transport commissioner Bob Kiley argued, ‘It is time to end this scheme before the public are forced to suffer another Railtrack on the tube.’ What is needed is not highly spun token gestures from Gordon Brown designed to give the impression that the government is doing something about public services.

The real answer is to pump in the billions of pounds of government investment needed to restore and improve public services. The government has plenty of money to spend when it chooses.

No one yet knows the full cost of the war on Afghanistan. The one certain thing is that money is no object when it comes to killing people in one of the poorest countries on earth. When it comes to shoring up its privatisation schemes too the government can always find the money.

This week New Labour was set to announce that the government would pick up the £34 billion tab for cleaning up the waste left by the nuclear industry. The cleaning up needs to be done. But the government is saying it will pay in order to take the burden off the BNFL nuclear firm and so pave the way to privatising it.

Lord robs NHS

Not only is New Labour running down and privatising the NHS, but some of its key figures are seizing on the chance to line their pockets in the process. Former Labour Party general secretary Tom (now Lord) Sawyer is the chair of a private health firm, Reed Health Group, that is set to make over £5 million profit this year.

It makes money by overcharging NHS hospitals to supply staff to cover for gaps left by underfunding. ‘The worse the staff crisis in the NHS, the more money his company will make,’ said one of Sawyer’s employees.

Reed admits it aims to profit from ‘structural deficiencies with the NHS, the continuing shortage of nurses and specialist healthcare staff’. Reed charges 25 percent more to hospitals than they would normally pay for a nurse.

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