Cat Hobbs “People all over the country are frustrated about their services being sold off or handed over to companies who don’t care, and don’t deliver”

Here’s the speech that Cat Hobbs, founder of We Own It, gave at their Unions21 hosted event at Labour Party Conference


“Thank you so much for coming today, it’s great to see you all. I thought I’d start our discussion today by reading you the story of someone who got in touch to support us recently. He wanted to be kept anonymous so let’s call him Dave.


This is what Dave said to us:


“This is probably the single most relevant issue in today’s politics. As far as I am aware the Green party are the only ones who are promoting renationalisation. Which is scary as if the facts were publicised it would surely be a vote winner for any party, demonstrating nicely that policy in all the major parties is driven by party donors and lobbyists not by informed public opinion and definitely not common sense.


If it’s any use to you my personal example of privatisation not working is this:


When I arrive in my lab each morning it generally hasn’t been cleaned properly, some times not at all. I call the Sodexo help desk and report it and then quickly clean anything that is really nasty myself before the first patient arrives. As far as I know Sodexo suffer no penalty for not fulfilling this part of their lucrative hospital cleaning contract and therefore has no interest in improving the service they provide. They continue to make a profit. Meanwhile the taxpayer pays for me, on pay band 7, to mop floors. A very expensive way to do it, especially if you have already paid a cleaner to. Hospital management don’t take any interest as they have already shown a saving on their cleaning services. What a load of BS.”


It’s not just Dave. People all over the country are frustrated about their services being sold off or handed over to companies who don’t care, and don’t deliver.


They are frustrated about high water bills, energy bills and rail fares.


They are frustrated with G4S and Serco being allowed to bid to run probation services while they’re being investigated for defrauding the taxpayer.


They are frustrated that even though many councils are bringing public services back in-house because it works better, others, like Barnet, are locking themselves into 10 year contracts with private companies like Capita. They are doing this against the will of local people, supported by the government’s ‘open public services’ agenda (a bit of lingo that could come straight out of 1984).


Labour has got to do better than this. Not a bit better, by default, because it’s quite easy to be better than this government without even trying. It needs to be a lot better.


We are giving Labour a ready-made solution: start by committing to a Public Service Users Bill, to promote high quality services and give all of us a voice when it comes to how they are run.


Labour is already against Royal Mail privatisation. It should be in favour of giving us a say over whether it happens by requiring public consultation before any public services are privatised or outsourced. Nearly 80% of people would support this.


Many Labour MPs are fighting for East Coast to stay public. It would be logical to require local and national government to look at public ownership best practice whenever they contract out, and put forward an in-house bid when they do. 80% of the public support this idea.


Shadow Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has committed to applying Freedom of Information legislation to private companies running public services. That’s great but they should also be required to share performance and financial data, and we should have a right to recall them when they do a bad job. Again, 80% of people would support a right to recall, including, surprisingly, 90% of Conservative voters.


Labour wants to increase the role of cooperatives and real mutuals in our economy. It should be prioritising organisations with a social purpose above private companies in the bidding process for our public services.


The Bill we are calling for is feasible and practical. Today we’re asking Labour to commit to it. Do it for Dave. Not Dave Cameron, the other Dave, at the hospital. Actually, do it for Dave Cameron too – to prove that Labour is different, and better.”

We Own It: Why we need a Public Service Users Bill

Cat Hobbs, Founder, We Own It

In 2013 the coalition government pushed ahead with plans to privatise ever more of our public services, taking aim at key British institutions like the Royal Mail, the NHS and the search-and-rescue service as well as announcing plans to re-privatise RBS.


Increasingly, this doesn’t look like an evidence-based approach. While private companies like G4S keep letting us down, the public ownership option – for example in the case of East Coast rail – offers a real, practical, successful alternative that has strong public support.


We Own It is calling for a Public Service Users Bill to protect and promote the high quality, accountable services that we all need. The people who use public services must have a look-in when it comes to how our public services are run.


We welcome Labour’s commitment to applying Freedom of Information legislation to private companies running public services. The party needs to go further, by requiring that private companies also share performance and financial data, and giving the public a right to recall them when they do a bad job.


The public should be consulted before any service is privatised or outsourced. Local and national government should be required to look at public ownership as the default option before contracting out, and as a value for money benchmark when they do contract out. Organisations with a social purpose – the public sector but also genuine mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises and charities – should be prioritised above private companies in the tendering process.


We Own It is a new organisation for everyone who wants public services to be run for people not profit. We are a voice for public service users who want public services that are owned by us and accountable to us. The drive to privatise everything has gone too far. Join us to discuss how Labour can help redress the balance.


For information about the We Own It joint fringe event at Labour Party Conference with Unions21 click here.


Unions21 is not party political and does not support any political faction or policy, but promotes trade unions and their aims by engaging across the political spectrum on relevant issues.

We’d like our public services back now, please

Cat Hobbs from We Own It will be speaking at the Unions21 Annual Conference on the 8 March at TUC Congress House

Picture the scene: you’re waiting in line at the railway station and you get to the counter to find the cost of your train ticket has gone up. Again. Maybe you’ve got a railcard but it doesn’t help that much. Your journey is becoming unaffordable. This is mysterious though because when you look at the amount of money the government is investing in the railways, it’s not insignificant. The policy of shifting the cost from taxpayers to passengers, introduced in 2007, came from a realisation that the money spent on rail had tripled since privatisation. But the government is still spending billions every year, while you’re paying for fares that keep increasing above inflation. There’s someone benefiting here and it’s not you. A recent study found that renationalising the railways would save £1.2 billion a year. Read More…