Fighting Them on the Beaches

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 5 2018

It is reasonable to argue that, in order to grow and prosper and to be secure, a nation needs to have control over its infrastructure. Who could argue against the view that British railways, roads, water, electricity, telecoms, airports, ports, broadcasting financial institutions should be British-owned or UK government-owned

In pursuit of the voodoo economics of privatisation the great and the good who steer the good ship Britannica, Labour as well as Conservative, have contrived a situation in which British citizens depend on Russia to heat their homes while that nation’s leader is poisoning people in Salisbury and Russian oligarchs are making it impossible for ordinary Londoners to afford homes.

Energy

Many years after UK state energy market was privatised, much of the industry remains in state ownership. The thing is that it is owned by foreign states not Britain. EDF Energy one of the largest distribution network operators in the UK after taking control of the UK nuclear generator, British Energy. It is owned by the French state. npower is owned by Innogy SE, a subsidiary of the German company RWE. ScottishPower is a subsidiary of Spanish utility company Iberdrola. E.on (formerly Powergen) has its HQ in Dusseldorf.

About 60% of the UK energy supply comes from foreign countries including Russia, Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands. Around 60% of the UK’s natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30% of it comes from Qatar. Around half of the UK’s crude oil imports come from Norway, and just over 30% comes from OPEC.

Water

Few other EU states opened their vital services to foreign competition the way Britain did. Most of the water that Britons use to make their tea or flush away their excretions is controlled by foreign companies. After the UK water industry was privatised in 1989, several new companies were formed and many were sold off. There are now 12 water companies, out of the 23 in the UK, which have foreign owners. Thames Water was bought by a consortium which included the Australian investment group Macquarie and a Chinese wealth fund. Yorkshire Water was acquired by a consortium including Citigroup, HSBC, and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Northumbria Water was bought by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

Transport

It would be impossible to take a rail journey anywhere in the UK without putting money into the pockets of foreign shareholders. Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central services are run by Arriva which is owned by the German company Deutsche Bahn. MTR shares the South West Trains franchise with a British company FirstGroup plc.  MTR will also run Crossrail. Hong Kong state owns MTR. Trenitalia, an Italian company, runs Essex Thameside. The French state firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. SNCF, as part of Govia, operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland and with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway.  ScotRail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail are run by Abellio, which is owned by the Dutch state.

Ports

Transport minister Chris Grayling visited Felixstowe and proudly boasted of Britain’s history as a “great global trading nation”. An empty boast because, as Private Eye pointed out, Britain’s ports are owned by “a medley of foreign governments, billionaires and tax-avoiding conglomerates”.

Felixstowe is owned and run by a Chinese conglomerate listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Southampton and London Gateway are run by a UAE government conglomerate called Dubai World controlled by Dubai’s ruler. In 2013, a judge ruled that the company had used “an elaborate trick” to avoid paying £14 million in UK income tax.

Liverpool, Glasgow and Great Yarmouth are run by Peel Ports which is joint owned by Deutsche Bank. In 2013 the parliamentary public accounts committee accused the company of tax-dodging. Associated British Ports is established in Jersey to avoid taxes and  is owned by Singapore’s foreign reserve fund and Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund.

The rhetoric of many Brexiteers was that the UK had to get out of the EU to restore national pride. A similar mindset persuaded Americans to vote for Trump to make America great again. Unfortunately, this is an untenable viewpoint in a globalized world. It is particularly ludicrous in the UK where the very people who called for the UK to be freed of the shackles of Brussels were selling off the nation’s assets for a mess of pottage – well, a mess of something and an expensive one at that.

 

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