It is difficult holding modern nationalised industries to account. The Coalition has accepted much of the protective mumbo jumbo inherited from the previous government that makes it difficult to get at the losses and excesses of state owned enterprises.
The first is denial that a state owned enterprise is part of the public sector. Many questions about RBS are parried with “it’s a private sector company”. It just happens to be a company with a dominant taxpayer shareholding, dependent on taxpayer money for its very protected existence. Network Rail is said to be a private company! Some private copmpany, when the shareholder representatives are all chosen by the state, and the whole thing is in effect taxpayer owned and taxpayer subsidised. Even the Post Office, still technically a nationalised industry, fends off reasonable questions with a refusal to answer on the grounds of “Commercial in confidence”.
I tried to make the Post Office accountable for its decision to make huge increases in stamp prices last year. My questions as to how many first class stamps they sold before the price rise, and how many since, are blocked. Surely, as a representative of the taxpayer owners we are entitled to know how successful or otherwise this business strategy of huge price rises has been? As customer owners, are we not due some analysis of what impact pricing policy has had on our use of this important service? I assume my question was blocked because there has been a large decline in first class mail use, as you would expect with such a price rise. It was probably big enough to lead many users of first class post to consider switching to second class or to some other way of communicating.
I am seeking to make Network Rail accountable for its purchase of derivative products. Parliament does not apparently wish to investigate the £1 billion plus of marked to market losses at Network Rail, when MPs can get agitated about much smaller sums. Any discussion of the current rail fare rises is incomplete without exploring the foreign borrowings and the derivative positions of the leading rail company which happens to be in public ownership.
I want to know more of the total cost of the bridge “improvement” programme which is gobbling up huge sums of money at the behest of the railway. Near my own area the A4 Woodley bridge has been replaced at considerable cost, and now the Duffield Road bridge nearby is also being completely replaced. Why is this necsssary? What is the alleged return on capital? Why don’t they put in more road capacity at the same time so it would be more useful spending?
I want to know why RBS is still such a large congolmerate. Why hasn’t the disposal programme continued more rapdily? Why has the bank been so persistently loss making since being in public ownership?
Ministers should summons executives from these wayward baronies of the public sector, and start to instil value for money and cost control to save the taxpayer the continuing drain on our pockets. There is big money to be saved or earned for taxpayers in these titans.