Link to Archive of Issues. Accountability and Privatization

Dear Habermas Logo and Link to Site Index A Justice Site

Worker Issues

Related References:

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: July 30, 2001
Latest update: September 3, 2001


Accountability and Privatization

Entry by jeanne

Teaching and Review Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, and Individaul Authors: September 2001.
"Fair Use" encouraged.

This teaching essay is based on a notice received through Progressive Sociologists Net on Monday, September 3, 2001:

A workshop conference addressing the politics, economics, and organization issues of New Labour's proposals for involving the private sector in the delivery of welfare state services.

Date - Saturday 17th November 2001 - all day. Venue - City Rooms Leicester

Plenary Speakers

  1. Colin Crouch - author of 'Post-democratic Politics'
  2. David Price - author of numerous pieces on GATS implications for UK welfare state and on PFI,
  3. Representatives of Left political groups including Labour if possible, Greens, Trade Unions.


    Intended to develop specific local and national action directed at defending the 'not for profit' welfare state.


    The publication by the IPPR of BUILDING BETTER PARTNERSHIPS - the report of the Commission on Public Private Partnerships, is a key event in the move towards the privatization of key public services in the UK. The report has to be set in the context of the implications of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) for welfare delivery in Europe and in relation to the necessity for corporate capital to dismantle public provision of health, education and other social services precisely because these services represent the major area for the expansion of profits. Put simply, there is an imperialist necessity for capital to valorize welfare - for corporate capital to transform welfare in rich countries so that profits can be made from the delivery of tax funded services and from a private sector parasitic on those tax funded services. GATS means that even governments which are opposed to these developments may have them forced upon their citizens.

    In the UK there seems to be little need for GATS. UK 'New Labour' is ideologically committed to massive privatization on the grounds that all that matters is what works. True, there has been what looks like a tactical withdrawal in response to trade union outrage, but it is all too easy for spin doctors to represent service workers as self-interested and conservative opponents to change. A 'producer only' strategy of resistance will not work in defending the closest thing to socialist forms in our sort of capitalist society. There seems to be an urgent need for socialists, greens and others who wish to oppose these developments to do the following:

    1. Think carefully and properly about the nature of these changes understood in terms of contemporary social and economic conditions.
    2. Consider how campaigns which incorporate but go beyond producer interests can be mounted to defend the welfare state.
    3. Point out how the current crisis of UK welfare has arisen in large part because the most affluent 5% of people in this country have had a massive reduction in the proportion of their income they pay in tax.
    4. Recognize how unquestioning loyalty to the Labour Party - Bill Morris' 'my party right or wrong' - plays into the hands of those who are organizing this major transformation for the worse.

    In order to help in this process a conference is being organised with the support of the Conference for Socialist Economists and Critical Social Policy. Is it the case that 'Only Labour can destroy the Welfare State' - just as only Nixon could go to China?

    We want help and sponsorship etc. to make this happen.

    What you can do

    The people we are mailing this to are either academics with a record of defending the welfare state or activists in political organizations or trade unionists. Many of course are all three. We already have sponsorship from CSE and CSP which will make the event possible. However, any further sponsorship will allow us to reduce charges particularly for low and unwaged people. We need:

    • Publicity - please circulate this announcement to anyone or any group who might be interested.
    • commitments to participate
    • offers to lead workshops
    • offers to produce short (not more than 1000 words) position and analysis papers which we can post on a website in advance.

      David Byrne at

      Or Sally Ruane

This discussion of privatization is crucial to our life-world just now. When services, such as education and incarceration, are privatized, they are run with the bottom line foremost in mind. As you will notice in the notice on this conference, the concern is that if the private corporate sphere takes over social services, the primary reason for that is that profits can be realized from delivery of those services. But with this shift in conrol from one of government, with its at least nominal accountability to citizens who receive those services, we shift to private control with no direct accountability to the citizens served.

Accountability is a major social issue today. But accountability by whom and to whom? Our universities are today treated like corporate enterprises, designed to make profits. Even though those profits are theoretically ploughed back into the educational system, there is little accountability for the percentage of the profits that go to the corporate directors before they go to the organizational goals and those for whom the service was designed. Non-governmental Organizations are privately run helping agencies, and this is one of the concerns, that the money doesn't trickle down in a way to eliminate the poverty and dysfunction that we are trying to assuage.

Trickle down effects are particularly important when we are trying to alleviate poverty or lack of requisite work skills or special technology skills. This is particularly a problem as a global market has led to the diminution in developed countries of unskilled opportunities.

Discussion Topics:

  1. Why does privatization alter the agenda of those organizations delivering social services?
    jeanne's notes:

    Agendas and policies are formulated by those who have the power of decision-making. If the organization is private, its agenda and policies will be governed by the primary goals of the organization in power. The Open Society stresses the fact that the agenda and goals appropriate for making money are inappropriate for the delivery and management of social services. Soros said this in an interview I believe, but I'll have to locate the quote somewhere on the site.


    • Accountability:
    • Accountability is a validity check, that what one says one is doing is in fact what is being done. That means we have to be clear about what it is that we're supposed to be doing. For example, learning in our institutions of higher learning, not certification. And we have to be clear and how we can measure that to tell if in fact our goals are being met.

      One of the problems with accountability is that learning, in particular, is not linear, and does not happen evenly over time. We speak of the S curve of learning, and of latent learning. And the accountability an employer wants that one can engage in some particular skill-based activity, does not mean that one is accountable from the community's perspective of why and how education is necessary.

      Instead of one-on-one accountability, we need to focus more on investing in the learning of all our citizens, and recognize that the payoffs for that investment may not come for decades, or maybe even generations. Teachers cannot predict which of their students will someday carry on the torch of learning. But if we educate them all we can be sure that some will take over that torch. (Resources later. Nag me. jeanne)