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Royal Mail leads new wave of privatisation

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Public sector workers used to take consolation that their jobs might not attract the high salaries but were at least secure, with decent working conditions. Now around 150,000 of them face being thrown to the wolves of the private sector as the government embarks on a round of privatisation to rival the great sell-offs of the 80s.

The Royal Mail leads the way. Despite criticism from unions and consumers, the government is intent on selling off the postal service to the highest bidder. Despite the regular jokes about snail mail, the Royal Mail is a service used by everybody on a daily basis. Experience of privatisation suggests the immediate effects will be rising costs to the consumer and cutbacks in deliveries to those people who insist on living outside the big cities.

Chris Paton of Deloitte told The Guardian that privatisation improved services. "This is bringing in private sector skills, market knowledge and insight to support the transformation of public sector organisations," he said. "Ultimately, this helps them deliver more efficient and effective services to the public."

This optimistic view flies in the face of public experience of privatisation. Privatised utility companies have cranked gas and electricity prices sky-high while raking in billions of profits. Privatised rail companies have made spontaneous train travel prohibitively expensive, created a Byzantine system for buying tickets and made the UK's rail service the most expensive in Europe. Rail operators' use of public subsidies has meant they effectively use taxpayers' money to subsidise unprofitable routes, while making huge profits from business travellers.

For employees, privatisation exposes them to the brutal realities of the job market and immediate cuts, with many low-level jobs filled by unpaid "interns" or free "work experience" labour helpfully shuttled over from Job Centres by government. Not that the employment opportunities are all bad news. Past form suggests that MPs can make tidy supplements to their salaries by acting as "consultants" or directors of companies bidding for privatised mail contracts.

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