The one thing the main political parties here are all agreed on is that Northern Ireland should be sold to private profiteers.
Public Services – Not safe in their hands!
Before the Assembly collapsed, local politicians agreed a budget for the future financing of all aspects of our lives. As part of the misnamed "Re-investment and Reform Initiative", the Executive had agreed that up to 75% of the o2 billion funding for government departments should be delivered through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
Worse still, the decisions on and control over future spending has been handed over to an unelected and unaccountable quango, the Strategic Investment Body.
These individuals, who are hand-picked experts in privatising public services, will now decide on how money is spent in education, health, the fire service, roads, water, transport and housing.
Our so-called political leaders have given away their control and therefore our right to have a say in how our services are delivered.
Everyone would agree that children should be educated in modern, well equipped schools and that the sick should be treated in modern hospitals, so the government have been able to sell the lie that this can only happen if private money is used to pay for it. But this is nonsense.
How can it make sense that a private company can build more cheaply that the government and still make a profit? The Assembly will spend years using our taxes to pay private companies for buildings and assets that we will never again own. A school should be a community asset which is freely available for use by communities all year round.
If we allow them to be sold to private companies, communities will be locked out unless they pay to use them. The private company will not only own the school but will employ the staff on worse terms and conditions.
The same is true of the water service. Although Ministers deny that it will be privatised immediately, they are putting in place the procedures to take the water service out of the public sector and set it up as a separate body.
Water charges will be introduced and when we have paid for the infrastructure reforms and the service has become self-financing and therefore a lucrative business, it will be sold to private companies.
The same will be true of roads and transport. Private companies will use toll charges and inflated transport prices to make profits out of these basic services. Our taxes will not be reduced to compensate and in fact, we already know that our domestic rates are set to increase.
We can see from the experience in England, what can happen when profits come before lives. Jarvis, the company responsible for the Potters Bar crash, have now been found guilty of falsifying certificates on essential safety repairs to rail lines.
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 determines that a public authority will have due regard to promote equality of opportunity to all persons in relation to gender, disability, religion, race etc. but this obligation does not apply to private companies and equality will be sacrificed.
We must ask our Assembly politicians why they are allowing this to happen. We need to know why they are not using the skills and expertise that already exists in the public sector.
Why did the Assembly decide that Northern Ireland should be the only area of the UK where the public sector is not allowed to bid for the contracts to provide and upgrade our services?
The government argues that using private finance to fund public services allows them to share the risk if things go wrong. But how can the government share the risk on essential services. If a private company building a hospital experiences financial difficulty, the government will have to step in and bail them out. They will not have a choice. We have already seen this happen with rail services in Britain. The government has had to pour more and more money in to bolster private companies who are incapable of running the services.
We will face the same in Northern Ireland unless the main political parties here are held accountable for their actions. We can no longer allow these politicians to preside over the sale of NI plc. When they come knocking on your door over the next few weeks and ask for your vote, ask them to explain why they have agreed to the destruction of the public service. Use your vote for candidates who will expose this sham.
THE ASSEMBLY managed to preside over the de-industrialisation of much of East Belfast.
The Shipyard has been reduced to a shell, the days of building ships no more than a memory, the skills built up over a century will now probably be lost for ever.
Shorts has also been run down. In the last two years, the workforce has been reduced by 1,600. Bombardier are concentrating production in Toronto and there is a danger that they could decide to close the Belfast plant.
They are threatening to cut a further 1,000 jobs and are using the threat to blackmail the workforce into accepting a poor pay offer and a worsening of conditions.
A further nail in the industrial coffin of East Belfast has been the sale of 185 acres of the Harbour estate to Fred Olsen’s company, Olsen Energy. This was sold for the giveaway price of o47 million. This land will now be used to benefit property speculators – not to solve the housing problem or help provide jobs.
The irony is that it was Unionist Ministers like the UUP’s Reg Empy and Peter Robinson of the DUP who oversaw the destruction of what they would have regarded as part of the "Protestant" industrial heritage.
East Belfast Socialist Party candidate, Tommy Black, has slammed Peter Robinson for "behaving like a high paid auctioneer, selling off much of the assets of this district. The contract with Fred Olsen should be revoked. This land should be brought back into public ownership and a development committee made up of trade unionists, representatives of all communities in East Belfast, as well as local politicians should decide on how it can be used.
"This area could provide much needed social housing as well as jobs and facilities. This would go a long way to ease the tension over shortage of affordable housing which is one of the underlying causes of the sectarian fighting in and around the Short Strand."
THE FIRE Service Pay Campaign cannot have escaped the attention of very many. A struggle to win fair pay for the nation’s fire workers "morphed" into a desperate struggle to defend the very fabric of the fire service. Government spin and a compliant media fed the public a diet consisting of the need to "modernise" an already exemplary, high performing service.
By Jim Barbour, Executive Committee Fire Brigades Union
Proposals for consultation in a forthcoming white paper if not successfully challenged, will materialize into fewer fireworkers, fewer fire appliances and a consequent reduction in the level of protection presently enjoyed by the public. Not surprisingly, the people most at risk from being killed in a house fire are those on low incomes, living in poor housing and quite literally, on the edge of society. Notwithstanding this, fire does not discriminate on grounds of class, colour, creed or income. We all are at risk!
Worship at the altar of the globalised economy is commonplace within the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is now interesting to watch a range of MLAs scramble to disassociate themselves from the scandalous initiative to privatise our water and sewerage service and introduce charges, regardless of ability to pay. Can they be trusted to safeguard our services?
Fireworkers understand the business of safety. It should not go unnoticed that the fireworkers we will lead to oppose the detrimental effects of modernisation, are the same people who will have to compromise their personal safety in a "make do and mend" fire service.
It is for that reason that the FBU are committed to fighting cuts and will demand a major role in risk planning process to ensure that rationalization of fire protection is not simply a cuts agenda. To protect the public, the FBU will need the help of the public.
It is time for a fresh start. By standing for Assembly seats we will bring the fight to defend public services to the doorsteps, the streets and the hustings. We will name and shame the profiteers among elected representatives and we will put stale sectarian politics aside to put public services first!
"We won’t pay" has been the reaction from people in the streets in response to the proposed water charges in 2006. The water charges, which could range anything from o400 up to o600, are likely to rise further after probable privatisation.
By Carol Barnett
For a number of months now, the "We won’t pay" Campaign has been collecting signatures from people all over the North. The Campaign has also organised public meetings in a number of areas, West, South and East Belfast.
These have been well supported and now local committees have been set up in the communities to mobilise support in their own areas and to build support for mass non payment. The local political parties in the Executive decided that water charges would have to be implemented in order to raise the o3 billion required to fund the underinvested sewerage and water systems. This was despite the fact that householders have always paid towards the sewerage and water systems in their rates.
This money was not used for the purpose intended and now householders are being told that they must fork out again.
The political parties, now that they don’t have any power, are washing their hands of the decision they made and are telling the electorate they are opposed to these charges! Tellingly though, they have not committed themselves to saying that they would support a non payment campaign.
The decision to introduce the water charges was taken despite unanimous votes held at "consultative" meetings to oppose them. Before the consultation period was even over, 600 job losses were announced, practically a third of the workforce. So much for consultation!
Everyone will be expected to pay this charge on top of increased rates. It is no secret the government have stated that householders in Northern Ireland should pay more money via water charges and rates to bring them into line with charges for council tax and water charges in England. What has not been taken into account is the fact that compared to England, our average income is a few thousand less and we pay a lot more for utility bills such as electricity and fuel. No expense has been spared for the person who will be appointed to oversee all of these charges; they stand to earn a minimum of o150, 000 a year.
A massive campaign is needed to resist the charges and job losses. The most effective way will be through a non payment campaign. This will show the government that people are determined that they are not going to pay this extra charge. It was the non payment campaign that defeated the Poll Tax in Britain and forced the Southern government to abandon its attempts to oppose water charges in the South. Communities need to mobilise and organise in their areas to collect non payment pledges and build a mass non payment movement.
Before they were suspended, the Executive agreed that:
- 75% of the o2 billion funding for services would be provided through Public Private Partnerships – ie. through privatisation.
- Staff as well as services would be handed over to private companies.
- Water charges would be introduced – the first step to water privatisation.
- Shipyard land would be sold for a song to former industrialist turned property speculator, Fred Olsen.
- Northern Ireland would be the only part of the UK in which the public sector would not be allowed to bid for contracts.
Socialist Party candidates Jim Barbour and Tommy Black are demanding:
- An end to privatisation — no sell off of services.
- No to Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and to Private Finance Initiatives (PFI)
- Services, Industry and land that have been sold to be brought back into public ownership.
- Adequate funding for Health, Education, Transport and other services to meet need.
- Public services to be democratically run by elected management bodies. No to appointed quangos.
These articles first appeared in the Socialist Voice, newspaper of the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland in a special supplement produced for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in November 2003