|Volume 48 Number 4, February 24, 2018||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The recent collapse of Carillion is a vivid example of the ever-deepening crisis and criminally corrupt character of a system that is solely interested in paying the rich without regard for the needs of the people.
The collapse of Carillion brings to light the sheer scale of the involvement of the private sector - in particular, private monopoly interests - in the public sector. Carillion was a large monopoly operating principally in Britain, where nearly half of its 43,000 employees were based, but also internationally, particularly in Canada and the Caribbean, as well as in the Middle East. Its dominant status was such that tens of thousands of smaller firms were connected with or dependent upon Carillion, which are now under threat themselves. Upwards of 30,000 small businesses are owed money by the monopoly according to the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group.
This one monopoly was contracted by the current and previous governments to provide close to 900 schools. Its operations ran end to end across the entire range of infrastructure from construction, including project management, architecture and engineering, through to cleaning, catering and maintenance across widely diverse areas of the economy, both in the public and private sector, from aviation to retail and leisure, from commercial to government at all levels. In particular, it was contracted in key areas of education, healthcare, transport and energy, and ran a reported 50,000 homes for the Ministry of Defence. Carillion therefore played a significant role in the government's long-term aim to privatise the NHS at the same time as directly forming part of the militarised economy. Its infrastructure contracts include the controversial HS2 rail link.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the Carillion debacle as "an outsourcing racket". The obvious corruption and conflict of interest of a government buried up to its neck in the enormous social and financial detritus arising from the collapse of Carillion, attempting to extricate itself with evasions and outright lies, is revealing of the extent of the penetration of big business into government and the affairs of state in general. It shows how far the government lacks any decision-making power independent of the aims of the monopolies and oligopolies.
In 2011, a year after the election of the Conversative-Liberal coalition, Philip Nevill Green became Carillion's director; significantly, Green was appointed in the same year as an advisor on corporate responsibility to Number 10 by then Prime Minister David Cameron. Murky goings-on are indicated by the fact that, as reported by City AM, Green, who was awarded with a CBE in 2014, left the role as advisor in December 2016 under Theresa May and that neither Number 10 nor the Cabinet Office would comment on the nature of the advice given, or why Green left.
According to The Week, Carillion received £2bn in government contracts despite three profit warnings and collapsed under a debt of £1.5bn after failing to reach a rescue deal with the Government.
Corruption in the present conditions of the anti-social offensive and crisis is not merely a matter of breaking rules or personal conflict of interest but the overthrow of all the rules, institutions and norms of civil society and the conflict between public interest, the general interests of society, versus the self-serving interests of powerful monopolies. Corruption of the kind revealed by the collapse of Carillion is an integral part of the usurpation of the public authority by private monopoly interests.
It was the Thatcher government that launched the anti-social offensive nearly 40 years ago, encapsulated in the notorious declaration that "there is no such thing as society". In that context, it carried out privatisations so as to open up the lucrative public sector for private profit, while abrogating the responsibility of the state to provide social programmes. The continuation of that government under Major introduced Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) in 1992. Such so-called public-private partnership arrangements were taken to the next level by the Blair government according to the "Third Way" ideology, which guided their all-sided programme to politicise private interests and depoliticise public interests. This time the slogan was "make Britain great again", which made all subservient to the empire-building aims of the most powerful monopolies in the global market and was directly connected to the pro-war agenda for which Blair is infamous. PFI under Blair meant the capture of public institutions so that monopoly right would trump public right. The financial crisis and associated austerity launched by the Cameron-Clegg coalition and continuing to the present have been systematically destroying all vestiges of the welfare state arrangements, such that now even the notion of "partnership" is out of date. The collapse of Carillion reveals that PFI itself is now in crisis.
Such destructive arrangements as PFI can ultimately only lead to crisis. Social programmes are a necessity for a modern society, a necessity that asserts itself as crisis when not recognised and given first claim on the economy but instead left to chance.
The pursuit of big scores has become such that private finance has become precarious to the extreme. This latest collapse exposes how private finance subjects crucial areas of infrastructure essential to the economy and society to the vagaries of the market and narrow self-serving aims and interests. It should be noted that the £1.5 billion debt is itself part of paying the rich, a claim by sections of finance capital that itself should be challenged. Furthermore, it is reported that workers' pensions are threatened due to a deficit of £587 million in Carillion's pension fund. Both active and retired workers are therefore to be made to shoulder the burden of the collapse directly by being forced to give up their own claims on the value they have created through their years of employment by the company.
In this respect, it is significant that Carillion was exposed in 2009 for using illegal construction industry blacklisting body The Consulting Association, to deny employment to workers for political, union or whistleblowing activity. The anti-worker nature of Carillion's operations, the denial of their right to organise to protect their interests during the company's existence, and the denial of workers' claims after collapse, go hand-in-hand with a civil society in tatters and the increasing reliance on arbitrary powers that Carillion has been at the centre of bringing about.
In order to organise for an alternative, people need crucially to discuss the politicisation of private interests and the destruction of the old civil society and arrangements of state and governance.
In general, the politicisation of private, particularly monopoly interests, with their associated empire-building aims and need to plunder the global economy without regard for sovereignty is a factor for pro-war government.
Infrastructure necessary for the general interests of society, the public good, should be prevented from being used as a means to enrich the most powerful monopolies. Public-private partnerships should be recognised as inherently corrupt and should be outlawed.
This requires the politicisation of the public interest on a new basis, not through the return to a civil society of the past that is out of step with the times, but through direct empowerment of the polity to create a human society, which is able to organise for itself a pro-social, anti-war government of a new type.