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  • Published in Analysis
Photo: Max Pixel

Photo: Max Pixel

We have to challenge the idea that the private sector is fit to run our public services, and we can only do that with mass social protest, argues Richard Allday

The corporate conglomerate that is Carillion stuttered and fell today, to loud cries of consternation and condemnation from the great and the good. In the course of its collapse, it exposes much of the corrupt structure that passes for ‘strong and stable’ in Tory Britain.  

If you google ‘Carillion’ today, the first site pop up is the government’s own Insolvency Service website, which informs employees, workers and suppliers of (some of) their rights. Tucked down the bottom is the supportive information that self-employed contractors and agency workers can go whistle (I paraphrase). They are not covered by any of the government’s ‘protections’. 

Given the dishonest practice endemic in construction of forcing a high proportion of site workers into self-employment or agencies, this means many thousands of Carillion workers are left high and dry, with no statutory right to compensation for unpaid wages, or redundancy.

But this must be ethical, because the Chairman of Carillion, Philip Green, was selected by Theresa May to be one of her advisors on of all things, corporate responsibility. He wouldn’t duck his moral obligations to “an outstanding workforce” would he, not after proclaiming his “…vision is to be the trusted partner for providing services [and] delivering infrastructure … [etc etc etc] …Our values shape the way we do our business.” (Quoted from his statement presenting the company accounts for 2016 – the last ones presented.)

“Our values shape the way we do our business”:  d’you like that? It’s a good one, isn’t it? Which is a bit of a shame, because the City’s watchdog has now launched an investigation into “the timeliness and content” of the statements Carillion made to the stock market about its financial position in the first half of last year.

They are about as swift on the uptake as the Tory government, which slung some £2 billion Green’s way, apparently unaware that the group was in deep trouble. But how could the strong and stable Theresa May or her cabinet be aware of the company’s problems? It’s not as if the company was particularly open about it.  

Here is Philip Green again, presenting his company accounts last year: “We have a good platform from which to develop the business in 2017…. We will also begin reducing average net borrowing.” Well, that worked a blinder didn’t it Phil?

Four months after presenting this ‘strong and stable’ platform to his City friends, the company issued a profit warning (basically a company’s public admission that the figures they had presented don’t add up), and the share price plunged.

Now, here is the interesting bit for all those cabinet ministers that claim they never knew there was a problem.  Their hedge fund mates sure did; their mates named in the Paradise Papers did; the financial press did; because speculators had been short-selling Carillion shares for months.  

According to the Guardian “Carillion’s popularity with short-sellers suggests hedge funds were convinced the company was in trouble long before those suspicions reached the ears of politicians.” 

Excuse me? When we have such financial whizz kids in the government as Sajid Javid, ex-managing director of Deutsche Bank, Secretary of State for Business and President of the Board of Trade 2015-16 – precisely the time this punting millions on Carillion crashing was going on – they’re telling us he didn’t have a clue?

(Incidentally, the Guardian reckons 18 hedge funds made £80m in the three months after the first profit warning. Who knows how much they have made since. And 40,000 working men and women are facing the dole.)

And David Lidington (Cabinet Office Minister) says it was ‘regrettable’ the company had not secured a rescue deal, but “taxpayers cannot be expected to bail out a private company”. 

Yet another porky, because not only did he gaily look the other way whilst the government shoved £2bn of taxpayers’ money at a basket case, but he is quite happy that Carillion’s pension obligations are going to be picked up by the state-funded pension protection scheme –  up to another £900m hit!

Is it just me, or is there something deeply disgusting about a government that just shrugs its shoulders at the prospect of 40,000 families losing their income and proclaims “Nothing to do with me guv. I never saw a thing.” But doesn’t object to that same company paying a share dividend of nearly double the shares’ earning over the previous year. That claims it knew nothing of the problems facing Carillion, despite that every porcine hedge fund manager going was blessing their luck – a group of people that Tory politicians love to be around; parasitic leeches that produce nothing, but amass vast wealth out of others’ misfortune. A Tory’s wet dream. 

But nobody uttered a whisper. Theresa didn’t know. Sajid didn’t know. Even that nice Mr. Hammond didn’t know. But then, he was probably too busy running the economy to notice the … err …economy

So we are being governed by a bunch of brainless bigots, who apparently don’t know if it’s raining or Tuesday. But are sure of one thing – the state will not intervene, because their mantra is “Public bad, private good”. 

Unfortunately, the construction and service industries – the two areas on which Carillion focused – are notoriously weak in union organisation. Thus the anger and misery experienced by thousands are unlikely to be able to exert much pressure on the Tories (much as the Grenfell survivors were dismissed and ignored until they started collectively organising).  

We cannot take another 4 years of this. We have to get them out, and that will not come through fine speeches in parliament, or the mock-outrage of Fleet Street editorials, it will only come through mass social protest, challenging their very right to be in government. 

And that means street protests; it means local campaigns and petitions and actions and protests over every ward closure, library shut down, fire station closure, and lollipop lady laid off. And it means supporting initiatives such as the February 3rd demonstration called by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns together – a national demonstration against the Tory destruction of our NHS.

Richard Allday

Richard Allday

Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage.  A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.

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