One Public Estate, One Totalitarian State

In his budget of July 2015, then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the “Great Privatisation”. The sale of government assets, he said, “will deliver the largest privatisation proceeds of all time”. To all it appeared that this was just another aspect of so-called austerity. Appearances can be deceptive.

Following Osborne’s budget announcement, the UK Column sent a Freedom of Information request to the Treasury asking for details of the “Great Privatisation”. These were not forthcoming, and a year and a half later, the Treasury still has not provided the information asked for.

In their response, the Treasury pointed to the fact that information about big ticket items such as the sale of remaining Eurostar, Royal Mail shares, assets held in Lloyds, RBS, UK Asset Resolution, Student Loans and Kings Cross property developments is publicly available as a reason for their refusal to answer the request.

They refused to provide any information about smaller asset sales: all the land and buildings up for a song to property developers right around the country, but which still amount to multiple millions of pounds when taken together. The Treasury says it is much too difficult to keep track of all those little assets. There is no “central searchable database of such sales”. Except that in the very next sentence we were informed that “searches targeting the specific assets you mention return very high numbers of results.”

Which was it? Do they have a database of such assets or not? Surely it is the Treasury’s job to know what assets government departments and agencies are selling? How else can they know if government money is being misappropriated?

Big Society, Big Lie

Just over a week ago, David Cameron announced his future plans. He will oversee expansion of the National Citizen Service, a key part of his “Big Society”.

David Cameron’s Big Society is a rebranding of Tony Blair’s “Third Way” - different politician, different party, same policy agenda.

Big Society is presented as a system where “a significant amount of responsibility for the running of a society is devolved to local communities and volunteers.” It is sold as “power” in the hands of local people; local democracy, with decisions affecting local people being made locally and not in far away and remote Westminster. Except when they aren’t.

At the heart of the Big Society is the influence of Non Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations. These organisations not only lobby for policy, but in some cases “collaborate” within government institutions directly, to make sure that, for example, “no child at risk of harm falls between the cracks”, or “everyone at risk of radicalisation is identified”.

As a result almost secret programmes such as Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and Muti-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) have been set up along side the much more public Prevent Strategy. These programmes bring people working for local authorities, police, schools, the NHS, charities, other NGOs and CSOs together to “collaborate”.

This “collaboration” is done behind closed doors, with little or no public oversight. And while it might be argued that no child at risk should fall between the cracks, in practise they still do, and regularly. When they do, these new collaborative networks close ranks, and the fix is in for the cover up. There is no operational independence, and because the police are now “colleagues”, there is no possibility of proper investigation.

This amounts to the complete destruction of the separation of powers at a local level.

One Public Estate

One Public Estate was first launched in June 2013 jointly by the Cabinet Office and the Local Government Association. A “pioneering initiative”, it is a “major plank” of the government’s investment strategy, because government is “committed to release the value of public sector assets, specifically land and property”.

Over 50% of councils in England and Wales are now involved in One Public Estate “collaborative property led projects” in local areas, “transforming” local services.

These projects involve the sale of public assets at an unprecedented rate, forcing central and local government together into shared accommodation, with shared services.

Local authorities in England and Wales hold £225 billion of assets, so there is a clear financial incentive to this consolidation. Councils have already sold £10,641 billion land and property between 2010-2015 - sales that the Treasury has no record of it seems.

However, putting central government and local government departments together in the same building, alongside the police as happens in Plymouth already, and merging and outsourcing back-office functions adds a whole new dimension. Occasional colleagues become much more.

MAPPA, MASH and Prevent have made people colleagues who should be independent from each other. Putting everyone into One Pubic Estate takes the destruction of the separation of powers to a whole new level.