The importance of food security is at last becoming more widely recognised but few questions are raised as airports, rail, gas, electricity and water systems pass into German, French, American, Spanish and Australian ownership.
Just as there is a move to to be less dependent by increasing food production, these vital transport, energy, water and communications industries could be reclaimed and run on a not-for–profit basis, enabling environmental and safety measures to be taken without facing shareholder opposition.
There is a precedent: in 2000-2001, Glas Cymru, a mutual ‘not for profit’ company, made a bid for Welsh Water which had been taken over by an American company. It is now an award-winning provider: without the financial burden of shareholder payouts it is able to spend on raising standards and improving equipment, giving the rest of its surplus to customers as a dividend.
A typical report in the Financial Times records that customers of Welsh Water [sometimes described as a co-operative], which has no shareholders and distributes its profits among customers, received £18 off their bills as the company returned this year’s profits to them. Glas Cymru/Welsh Water also retained £19.4bn to reinvest in the business for the benefit of its 1.3m customers, OFWAT, the water regulator, ranked the company joint first with Yorkshire Water for customer service and environmental performance.
This month alone, a new economic impact assessment from Cardiff Business School reports that Welsh Water is contributing more than a £1 billion a year to the Welsh economy and for every ten jobs created by Welsh Water, a further fifteen are created in the supply chain, supporting more than 6,000 jobs across Wales.
The company has completed work on a £355,000 investment scheme to help alleviate the risk of internal flooding to properties in the Brook Lane area of Chester and is now asking customers to have their say on the company’s future plans as part of its consultation, called ‘Your Company.Your Say’ (see graphic above)
It is so successful that – after pillaging some good building societies – private sector eyes are now focussing on Glas Cymru. Paul Gosling, financial and co-operative journalist, refers to the Adam Smith Institute’s Nigel Hawkins, a Conservative activist who later became an investment analyst. In his booklet, Privatization Revisited, he writes: “Undoubtedly, Glas Cymru has performed well, especially according to the operating data collected by OFWAT. But there remains scope for further improvements, which the disciplines of private sector ownership are best placed to deliver . . .any eventual privatisation of Glas Cymru should be able to raise c£1.5 billion.”
Gosling notes that Christian Wolmar, said to be Britain’s leading transport commentator, has published research findings that there is potentially strong passenger support for the idea of developing co-operative engagement in the rail sector. He also pointed out that the experience of Welsh water company Glas Cymru demonstrates that a mutually-structured utility business can operate successfully and raise substantial funds for investment.
We need similar moves to reclaim home-owned, well-functioning water, energy, transport and communications systems, backed by not-for–personal-profit health and educational facilities, in this country.