Election portrait 2Can you drown in social media?  I think am.  It comes from Twitter, it comes from Facebook.  Hard left propaganda pops up every time I use my iPad.  I am not a socialist nor have I ever been a socialist, so what have I done to deserve this?

The upsurge of populism was bad enough before the General Election when Farage was on Question Time every other week.  Now populism is assailing me from the left as well.  As a social and economic liberal all my political oxygen is being sucked out of me.  Everyone says only simple solutions will do, the left classifies complexity as evasion and disingenuity.

The big thing now according to my Facebook friends is renationalisation.  The Greens love it and the socialists were on to nationalisation long before privatisation existed as a word.  The trains are overcrowded – let’s nationalise them.  Energy is too expensive, let’s nationalise the utilities companies.  Our steel companies are going bust, let’s nationalise them.  This magic wand will quickly lead to lower ticket prices and more railway carriages, cheap electricity and a steel industry full of muscled men back at their furnaces.  Stalin was the man of steel and he’s right back in fashion.

But populism is dangerous.  It makes big promises to satisfy the many people who crave answers in a world that is ever more complicated.  Leave the EU and Britain will be great again just like it was in the 1950s.  Nationalise the banks and put the bankers in jail.  Now we feel a whole lot better.

Bristol is forming a council owned renewable energy company and I feel queasy.  Solar Energy is important.  Very important.  Without government intervention it won’t get off the ground.  Thanks to the Feed in tariffs, I have it on my roof at home and have been a director of a solar energy Co-op, but I am uncertain that a city is competent to run its own energy company.

The ethos and training of people working in the commercial business sector is a world apart from the public sector.   In the private sector, if you make losses you will likely close down or be sold off.  If you make healthy profits for the shareholders you are rewarded.  Profit is the reward for risk taken.  In contrast the public sector is risk averse and Civil servants in this country generally don’t have business management training.  Another of many risks for Bristol’s Energy Company will be political interference.  Politicians can’t resist meddling.

Working for profit isn’t a soft option that spawns fat cats, but one that brings much pressure on those who try.  Many fail and that’s part of the deal.  Failure means closure and loss of jobs.  If you have monopolies and oligopolies that are protected from failure then they too become inefficient.  Monopolies in either the public or private sector are usually a bad thing leading to laziness, corruption and incompetence.  These rules aren’t invariable but mostly they apply.  Yes, I know.  The BBC works and the trains in Holland and Denmark run on time. But British Rail was awful.

Profits aren’t bad.  People are sometimes bad and that applies everywhere.  Running a large business requires high level skills.  It takes a firm grasp of marketing, the relevant technology and above all management skills.  I fear too often the public has been led to believe that the private sector represents greed and evil.  The reality is different.  It’s a tough place, demanding and complicated – very complicated.  And so is the world we now live in.

Stephen Perry

Retired Chartered accountant, who worked for an American multinational speciality chemicals company in the UK, Holland, USA and Latin America.  Former BBC journalist.  One of the founders of “Independents for Bristol”


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  1. The Bristol Blogger

    One of the reasons Bristol Energy will fail is because it will be classified as ‘inefficient’ according to those with “business management training”.

    This is because they will pay better wages; provide pensions; provide holiday pay and sick pay; hell, they might even recognise trade unions! They will also work to higher health and safety standards and as a pseudo-public enterprise (although there’s issues around its governance arrangements) they will provide a level of transparency missing from private enterprise.

    All these in the world of “business management training” are considered ‘inefficiencies’ that need to be squeezed out to increase profit.

    British Rail may have been awful but £204 for a return ticket to London is taking the piss.

  2. Ben

    I wasn’t sure this was satire until I got to this line: “In the private sector, if you make losses you will likely close down or be sold off” but that made it clear it is. It must take a lot of effort to ignore the explicit and implicit subsidies that maintain the banking and nuclear sectors, and the many millions of pounds extracted from the rail system by the private operators, when trying to argue public = bad, private = good. In reality the private sector only succeeds by externalising costs – costs that don’t disappear but most often just shift onto the shoulders of the public sector.

  3. William Quick

    No one’s suggesting that we re-nationalise stuff and that’s it job done – other than the ridiculous straw man you’re attempting to create.

    Yes British Rail was poor, but we’ve managed to make it even worse and less reliable in our privatised system, all whilst more than doubling the subsidy from the tax payer and increasing the ticket price by over 1/3rd more than inflation.

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