Top of Page

Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 17. GATS, Privatisation And Public Services In The Uk


Held on November 16th 2002, at the London School of Economics

Approximately 70 people attended. People were very interested in the whole topic and there were some good discussions throughout the day.

Opening Session

Chaired by Dr. Glenn Rikowski , ATTAC London and Senior Lecturer, University College Northampton

Introductory talk by Ruth Rikowski , ATTAC London, Visiting Lecturer, University of Greenwich and South Bank University and Book Reviews Editor for 'Managing Information'

'GATS and privatisation - issues and questions of the conference'

Ruth provided some background information about the WTO and the GATS and considered some of the terminology in the GATS agreement, such as 'bottom up' and 'top down', 'most favoured nation', 'national treatment', 'transparency' and 'market access' . She referred to the ambiguity in regard to the meaning of 'services' in the GATS document.

She emphasised her belief that there is a need for a concerted effort to raise awareness about the GATS in the UK. Furthermore, that if people in the UK realised that their public services were really under threat from a corporate takeover, then perhaps people would could come out of the political fog that they currently appear to be in, re-engage with politics and want to do something about it all.

A very good discussion followed from this talk. Someone suggested, for example, that there might not be anything wrong with private companies running our public services if they run them in a more efficient manner. People really started to think about some of the main, crucial issues, which was very encouraging.

Niaz Alam, Vice-Chair of War on Want

'Globalisation, privatisation and world poverty'

Niaz is Vice Chair of War on Want and a trustee on the Council Management of War on Want. A solicitor by background, Niaz is Head of Social Issues at the Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRIS).

War on Want was founded in 1951 by amongst others Harold Wilson and Victor Gollancz as a pioneering charity that has always sought to work in solidarity with the poor directly and address the underlying causes of world poverty. It has been at the forefront of many of the debates around developing world issues and it also calls for the introduction of a Tobin tax on currency speculation. War on Want works with progressive governments and organisations to find solutions to the failure of the world economic system to deliver a more equal distribution of wealth. It seeks to use the opportunities presented by globalisation (e.g. the Internet and linking with like-minded people) to provide more such equality.

Niaz's Talk

Niaz spoke about world poverty and said that when workers organise they become very powerful factors for trying to improve living and working conditions. He said that today, poverty means looking at globalisation, and at aspects such as the liberalisation of investment, capital and trade. 28 million people in Africa, for example, are on the starvation line. China expects to lose 25 million jobs, due to the WTO. He said that we need to make globalisation work for the many, not just the few, and this can only be done by organising and empowering the mass of the people internationally. War on Want works with different trade unions, to try to address this problem. He said that he is not anti-globalisation, but that it is going in the wrong direction.

Benjamin Geer, Co-ordinator of ATTAC London

'What is ATTAC?'

Ben provided some basic information about what ATTAC is, the origins and philosophy of ATTAC and some further information about the London branch. He encouraged people to look at the ATTAC website and to join

ATTAC is about 'placing the democratic principles of governance before the interests of international finance.' (Kohonen and Kotkowska, in The Chartist, Jan/Feb 2003, p. 15).

After lunch, there were 8 different workshops and people could choose to go to two different workshops. The workshops were:

Workshop One

'Legal implications of the GATS'

Dr. Markus Krajewski, ATTAC London and Lecturer in International Law at Kings College, London
Workshop leaders comments
This working group was quite popular. There were between 15 and 25 people and they discussed matters like GATS and public services, market access and national treatment obligations.

Workshop Two

'Private sector involvement in the NHS'

Dr. Sally Ruane, UK GATS Network and Lecturer in Health Policy at De Montfort University

Sally's research interests and publications are in health, and public/private boundaries, PFI and PPPs, GATS and anti-privatisation. She is actively involved in the campaign against privatisation and organised a national conference on this in 2001.
Outline of talk
Sally gave a presentation on a number of policies, which together seem set to transform the nature of the NHS from an essentially socialised model of health care provision to a mixed economy and marketised model. Policies considered include the concordat with the private health sector, PFI and Foundation Hospitals. She discussed the implications of these policies and forms of resistance.
Workshop leaders comments
Sally's workshop was well-attended and there was a good discussion. Sally has contacted various people at the workshop, leading on from this.

Workshop Three

'Language and Ideology' Sylvie Gosme, ATTAC London, working at a UN agency in Bruxelle. Former student at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies)
Outline of talk
Syvlie is interested in understanding the effect of the GATS in our everyday lives. She is also interested in understanding how its proponent managed to 'sell' it, especially to people that would get more harm than benefit from it. So she has studied some aspects of neo-liberal ideology and in particular how it has set the terms of debate about economic issues and the role of the state.

Workshop leaders comments
My workshop was about Language and Ideology, and attracted around 20 people. My presentation was about the dominance of neo-liberal ideology in the public discourse, and how many different concepts and ideas, originating from neo-classical economics (the economic theory underlying neo-liberal ideology), were presented as natural laws or received wisdom. This has helped to ensure that the ideology is dominant in the majority of people's mind, and this induced apathy or nihilism rather than constructive criticism from those who are experiencing the negative impact of policies based on this ideology.
The audience responded positively to my presentation. They seemed to enjoy being given a clear but not simplistic, theoretical critic of ideas derived from neo-classical economics, and this suggests that there is a great potential for a popular education campaign about economics. This can include explaining concepts that are often thrown at them as magical formula, demonstrating that the apparent logic of neo-classical theories is often deceptive, and showing that the private sector is not necessarily more efficient than the state. This would be directed towards those who have the intellectual tools to grasp those criticisms but who have never had the opportunity to be exposed to them before.

However, the first feeling that emerged in the discussion was a feeling of helplessness. Campaigning successfully against the GATS seems achievable, but how can we reverse two decades of neo-liberal propaganda? How can we change people's vision of the world, which has been so deeply rooted by this propaganda? I said that even I, who had studied the theoretical shortcomings of neo-liberal ideology, still intuitively started from its premise, since I have been exposed all my life to a vulgarised version of neo-classical economics as it is so pervasive in the media. Also, that I found it always more difficult to remember a non- neo-classical economics argument than a neo-classical. Ben Geer, the co-ordinator of ATTAC London, as well as a member of the audience, responded to this by recalling that neo-liberal ideology was in the same marginal position 30 years ago as its critics are today, and that a long-term effort might eventually be very successful. Also, he talked about ATTAC working to build an alternative scientific body of theory, and of the creation of its scientific committee that was there to give ATTAC members the intellectual tools to fight against neo-liberal ideology. The workshop itself had no concrete outcome, but a few people expressed interest in ATTAC's activities, and that this could become a focus for work in this direction.

This workshop was run once, and alternated with Francois's workshop.

Workshop Four

'Privatisation of security'
Dr. Francois Ogliaro, ATTAC London, Research Assistant at Kings College
Outline of talk
With twice as many staff (120,000 vs 240,000) and 3 billions £ turnover the private security industry has become a major actor of the policing policy and law enforcements. The Private Security Industry (PSIA) created in 2002 by the government retains all the characteristics of a self-regulating body similar to those that have failed in the past 10 years to fix the historical problems of the industry: over representation of people with 'dubious character'.
According to the Police federation, the privatisation of the police also takes the shape of a cheap CPO (Community Police Officer). Police will be less trained and less paid (1/3 less pay).

Workshop leaders comments
The workshop was well-attended and there was a good discussion. This workshop only ran once, and was alternated with Sylvie's workshop

Workshop Five

'The Pension Crisis' Hugh Lowe, National Pensioners Convention

Hugh Lowe is a Campaigning Pensioner and a member of the Research Committee of the National Pension Convention. He has also been a long time trade unionist.

National Pensions Convention (NPC) was formed in 1979 to act as the umbrella organisation of the pensioners' movement, throughout the country. Its affiliated groups include many national bodies and federations, associations of retired trade unionists, as well as hundreds of local and regional pensioner campaign groups. The NPC's main objective is to promote the welfare and interests of all pensioners, as a way of securing dignity, respect and financial security in retirement.
Outline of talk
Discussed privatisation of pensions and the power and influence of large corporations in regard to pension schemes.

Workshop Six

'Marketisation of higher education'

Dr. Les Levidow, Critical Academic Network and Open University

Les is a researcher and an activist. He is centrally involved in the Critical Academic Network. Les is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Technology Strategy at the Open University and he is Managing Editor of 'Science as Culture'. He as written on neoliberal policy in relation to higher education as well as on critical studies of GM crops, bioethics, international development and environmental learning.
Outline of talk
The UK government is pushing higher education into forms of marketization which would supposedly help universities here to become internationally competitive. UK Vice-Chancellors have been promoting such an agenda, e.g. by adopting business models of organization and performance criteria. These measures undermine education as a public good and provide practical models for implementing GATS. (See the article, 'Marketizing Higher Education: Neoliberal Strategies and Counter-Strategies',

Workshop leaders comments
Discussion included these points:Marketization is being justified by ideological terms, e.g. defining quality as fitness for profits, defining the 'knowledge economy' in termsof measurable individual skills, in turn defined as 'human capital', whileignoring the social skills and interactions necessary. Marketizationintersects with several processes -- e.g., increasing access to HE,student indebtedness, modularization -- though does so because the latterare instrumentalized for that purpose, not for inherent reasons. Variouspressures upon lecturers can lead to standardized curricula and studentevaluation, regardless of their views about quality education. Effectiveopposition depends upon credible alternatives for funding HE and for acritical pedagogy.

Workshop Seven

'The business takeover of schools'
Dr. Glenn Rikowski, ATTAC London, Senior Lecturer, University College Northampton

The talk provided examples of the business takeover of schools and the types of business involvement in schools: Private Finance Initiative (PFI), outsourcing, Education Action Zones, and other examples and forms of for-profit operations. The legislative framework for the business takeover of schools was then examined: the Green Paper, White Paper, Education Bill and Education Act 2002. These developments were related to the GATS. The relationship between the EU Schedule of Commitments for education on GATS and business involvement in schools: i.e., such involvement opens up the relevant education services to GATS. Finally, some of the ways in which trade unions, student organisations and education activists were responding to these developments were discussed.

Workshop leaders comments
The debate in the session was wide ranging and interesting. One of the participants was an AUT researcher who had been examining the GATS. The discussion explored the ways that businesses can make profits from schools, Education Act 2002 (especially the sections on schools becoming companies), the fightback (in the trade unions and amongst student organisations) against GATS and examples that the participants were familiar with in various parts of the country.

Workshop Eight

Ruth Rikowski, ATTAC London, Visiting Lecturer, University of Greenwich and South Bank University and Book Reviews Editor, Managing Information

' The GATS, libraries and privatisation'

Ruth discussed papers that she has written on 'The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries', linking the GATS to concrete examples in the UK of library privatisation, focusing in particular, on the public libraries. She explained, for example, how Haringey public library service is currently being run by a private company, called Instant Library Ltd, because Haringey council failed it Best Value Report for its library service, and so Instant Library were brought in to try to 'solve' the problem. She described how Best Value is being used as a mechanism to introduce a climate of competition, and how this fits in neatly with the GATS; indeed, it is be seen to be one of the 'national faces of the GATS' or a mechanism/facilitator, to enable the GATS to take effect.

Workshop leaders comments
An interesting discussion followed, and some participants spoke about the situation in regard to Havering libraries, where the council were proposing to shut down all Havering public libraries, and build new ones elsewhere with PFI. Various 'odd' reasons were given for doing this - e.g. that the library was not near enough to a shopping centre. At the current time, they did not go ahead with the plan, but they could always re-introduce it at a later date.

Events following on from workshop
Francis K Krause attended this workshop and spoke about the situation in Havering libraries. He contacted me afterwards, and provided some more information about this.

He forwarded a Discussion Paper, entitled 'Stop the asset stripping of London's Public Libraries' (5th Dec 2002). The document said:"London's public libraries are under threat from asset-strippers and property developers due to a plethora of private finance initiatives. Havering Council, for example, submitted a PFI bid last month, which, if accepted, would have resulted in five of its ten purpose-built premises being demolished. Fortunately, the bid was turned down, but in all probability an equally hideous PFI scheme will be dreamed up in twelve months time. Meanwhile, creeping privatisation is already under way. In Havering, for instance, JP Morgan Flemming provides Hornchurch Branch Library with educational workbooks for very young children. It's a matter of time before the arrangement is expanded to include older age groups, thus producing a lock-in monopoly.So how should we mount a campaign to save London's libraries-Under the Local Government Finance Act 1982, local authorities must have their accounts audited annually by independent accountants. Section 17 of the Act also gives members of the public the right to examine and make copies of the accounts together with any related documents such as deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts. In addition, electors may challenge the accounts and question the auditor if a discrepancy or breach of legal duty is suspected.By inspecting the deeds of each branch library within a local authority area, one can begin to audit everything relating to that site. Examples of factors, which should be verified, as follows:

  • the present valuation of the land and building(s)
  • the date of the valuation and whether this figure is up-to-date
  • the Valuation Officers
  • the Councillors responsible
  • the existence of a council that could prevent the property from being sold or restrict its sale.?

Plennary session

Chaired by Dr. Francois Ogliaro

Kat Fletcher, National Union of Students (NUS), National Womens Officer. Kat has also been involved, as a member of the NUS National Executive Committee, in the formation of the NUS GATS policy
'Education is not for sale'
The National Union of Students was founded in 1922. Today NUS represents 5 million students across the UK, providing them with a united voice, excellent benefits and helpful research and information.

Outline of talk

Kat spoke passionately about some of the things that are happening in higher education and how we need to link this to the GATS. She also spoke about some of the work of the NUS.

Emanuele Lobina, Public Services International Research Unit (PSRU) Emanuele is a Research Fellow at PSIRU. He is also a consultant in Globalisation, Water Supply and Sanitation, Arezzo Italy and has co-authored a series of reports on the privatisation of the water market worldwide.

'Privatisation of the water market'

PSIRU - the Public Services International Research Unit is based at University of Greenwich. PSIRU researches privatisation and restructuring of public services around the world, with special focus on water, energy, waste management, and healthcare. It produces a series of reports on specific aspects of privatisation and restructuring, and maintains an extensive database. This core database is financed by Public Services International (PSI), the global confederation of public services trade unions.

Outline of talk

Problems with water privatisation in transition and developing countries. Policy implications - e.g. role of multilateral agencies and implications for policy making in transition and developing countries Alternatives to water privatisation/strengthening public water operations

Dr. Markus Krajewski, ATTAC London and Lecturer in International Law at Kings College, London

'Summary of the meeting and further action'

Markus said how pleased he was with how the whole day went in general, that there had been lots of fruitful discussions and that hopefully we can now build on this, and take these issues forward.

Discussion - 5.00-5.30pm

There was a lively discussion and a wide variety of questions were asked.


There was a stall at the back for leaflets and books. Many different leaflets were taken and some books were sold.

Compiled by Ruth Rikowski, January 2003 Email: rikowskiat


For enquiries contact   isc-journalat

All articles, reviews or other works are the copyright of the respective author(s) as shown.