The coronavirus crisis has made it heartbreakingly obvious that we are all connected. Boris Johnson himself, still recovering from the virus, felt the need to contradict Margaret Thatcher, saying ‘there is such a thing as society’. Most of us would agree, and would say human life must be the priority in services like our NHS, not profit making for a few.
Public ownership of public services is extremely popular with a majority of the UK public. Public ownership is popular with both Leavers and Remainers, with young and old, across regions, social classes, and political divides. A majority of Conservative voters want public ownership of rail and water.
Our polling commissioned after the 2019 election asked why public ownership is so popular. The answer was that people think money should be reinvested in services rather than going to shareholders. They also believe ‘privately owned companies prioritise profitable areas over providing a good service to everyone’.
Privatisation has failed to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. We won’t get the decent public transport, green energy, clean rivers, fast broadband coverage and of course the NHS and education that we need without public ownership.
Public institutions providing vital services like energy, water and transport, if properly constructed, could help us transition to a Green New Deal and weather the storm of the climate emergency. These institutions should involve citizens, workers and communities in their governance structures, giving us a real voice. They could have new duties – to decarbonise, make sure everyone has access to services, work closely with communities and steward public land and assets. Public ownership could create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs in everything from generating renewable energy to care work.
At the moment the government is moving fast in the opposite direction, handing out private contracts to companies like Deloitte and Serco to deal with the crisis instead of investing in NHS and local government, using the pandemic to embed privatisation in our public services. Now is the moment to fight them every step of the way.
The public is more than ready for an end to austerity and privatisation. We must force the government, contract by contract if necessary, to give us back our NHS, to give us back our public services.
Out of the wreckage of coronavirus, we must build back better, with a new social contract that recognises the importance of our public services. They reflect our values – they are a collective expression of love, of how we choose to care for each other as a civilised society. They should be properly funded. Working for people not profit. Ready to take their place in delivering the Green New Deal that will be needed before the climate crisis hits us hard.
Cat Hobbs is founder and director of We Own It which is currently campaigning to end the private outsourcing of contact tracing in England. Sign the petition here.