Article from the October 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

Hain's pro-business agenda puts Public services under threat

By Gary Mulcahy
PETER HAIN, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has declared war on public services. During a speech in Belfast, Hain described how he and his direct-rule Ministers were intent on privatising public services, sacking public sector workers, closing down schools, escalating cuts in health and education, increasing rates and introducing water charges.

His speech was music to the ears of the audience of rich business men and women. But for everybody else, his speech was a war-cry and a warning to workers and working class communities of the neo-liberal assault that is to come.

According to Hain, the public sector needs to make way for the private sector in order to sustain growth in the economy. "As leaders of business and commerce consistently tell me, the current imbalance in the economy is unsustainable.... For Northern Ireland to become a prosperous economy there is a need for an increased focus on the development of the private sector."

Unlike Britain, the Northern Ireland economy is entirely dependent on the public sector. 31.7% of workers are employed in the public sector. Manufacturing, on the other hand employs only 12% of workers. Employment in manufacturing has collapsed by an estimated 43% since the beginning of the Troubles. This collapse is not due to the impact of the Troubles but is part of the de-industrialisation process which has taken place since the 1970's. With the expansion of globalisation, industry in the North has become an endangered species.

Outside of the public sector, agriculture and especially the service "industry" make up the bulk of private sector jobs. While manufacturing employs roughly 86,900, it is dwarfed by the service sector which accounts for 549,180 jobs. The service industry has created mainly low-paid, anti-union, insecure employment. The call-centres that have sprung up around Belfast and the North are an example of the type of jobs being created - highly insecure jobs with poverty wages and terrible working conditions.

Many private sector jobs are largely dependent on public-sector contracts, customers employed in the public sector, and on special tax-breaks. There are 4,000 small businesses which pay no corporation tax.

The sell-off and collapse of major manufacturing giants like Harland & Wolff and Shorts, has proven that the private sector model has failed. Harland & Wolff and Shorts were both major employers, but after they were privatised by Thatcher in the 80's, thousands of decent jobs were lost forever. Harland & Wolff is now closed while Shorts has come close to shutting its gates on several times and faces an uncertain future.

By privatising public services and sacking workers, the government will further weaken the economy, as well as further impoverish working class communities.

All public sector trade unions must now unite and co-ordinate a campaign to defend public services, which also incorporates the local communities. A good start to such a campaign would be to organise a one-day strike of all public sector workers and mobilise the communities. If the leaderships of the unions do not take a lead, then workers must organise from below and pressurise them to act.

Hain's proposals On privatisation

Private Finance Initiatives and Public Private Partnerships are to be used in all areas of public services, including schools and hospitals. Private companies will cut corners which will lead to a far worse service.

On education
"Review of education system...currently provision is simply not sustainable...this will inevitably lead to change - and indeed some schools closing." Brainwashing of children - " To achieve an entrepreneurial culture in Northern Ireland we need to ensure that the ethos is instilled in our children."

On benefits
Hain believes people should be not be entitled to social services and should be forced to take low-paid jobs with no rights. Those incapable of working will be taken off incapacity benefit.

On health
Even further privatisation of the health service. The new hospital in Enniskillen will be privately built and run and may not have acute services. Acute services in Omagh hospital are to be closed down.

On water charges
Privatisation of the water service and water charges to be introduced in April 2007.

On cuts
598 million a year in cuts from 2007 - 40,000 public and civil service jobs under threat.

Water privatisation underway

THE GOVERNMENT has handed a 110m PFI contract to a consortium of multi-national companies to run part of the water treatment facilities in Northern Ireland for 25 years. The consortium is made up of three companies. One is Farrans, a construction company owned by Cement Roadstone Holdings which, only a few months ago, was awarded a very similar water service PFI contract worth 270m.

The other companies which make up the consortium are Tyco International and the Kelda Group. Tyco is a major multi-national company which recently hit the headlines when it was involved in a major fraud scandal. A former chief executive and former finance chief are both serving a 25-year sentence and have been collectively fined $105m for stealing $600m from the company.

The Kelda Group owns Yorkshire Water, one of the privatised water companies in England. As was predicted by the Socialist, the private water multi-nationals are taking over the water service in Northern Ireland. Last year, Kelda's pre-tax profits rose by 16.8% to 223.7m after the so-called regulator Ofwat announced that Yorkshire Water would be allowed to increase water charges by 18% more than inflation from 2005 to 2010.

It is hardly surprising these fat-cat water bosses are getting these lucrative PFI contracts. Northumbrian Water Group donated over 20,000 to New Labour in 2004. Executive Chairman of the Kelda Group, John Napier was one of 58 bosses to write a letter calling on big business to support New Labour before the last general election.

Water boss John Napier is actually a board member of Yorkshire Forward - a government body responsible for economic development of the Yorkshire and Humber region. The handing over of our water service to big business is a major scandal which should be met with mass non-payment of water charges.

"We Won't Pay" members meet to plan action

THE WE Won't Pay Campaign held a members meeting in Belfast on 17 September, where members from many parts of the country gathered to discuss the way forward for the campaign.

The secretary's report outlined the history of the Campaign and pointed out the priorities for the campaign over the next year. Members from many different areas in Belfast and towns and cities across the North reported on their experience and the huge support the Campaign is receiving from householders.

It was agreed to renew the membership of the Campaign, hold more meetings in the communities and set up a steering group to bring back proposals on how the campaign can extend further into the communities and into new areas.

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