Light-touch government is an excellent theory, says North Dorset Green Party’s Ken Huggins. But in practice it just doesn’t hold water. Or sewage.
The ideology that promotes ‘light-touch’ government sounds appealing. It makes for simpler government, with a reduced role for the state, minimal bureaucracy, reduced public sector borrowing and reduced taxation.
The claim is that industry, free from the restrictions of red tape, can get on unhindered with the business of supplying the market with what people need. Bad businesses will fail, and only good businesses will succeed. Sounds good, but there is a fatal flaw … human greed.
A ‘good’ private company is generally considered to be one which primarily focusses on maximising the money made for its shareholders and management, putting profit before people and planet.
Take the water industry in England, overseen by the government regulator OFWAT and the Environment Agency which are both considered to be poorly resourced under light-touch government.
The industry was privatised in 1989 by a Tory government, under the pretext that the private sector would inject the cash needed to upgrade old Victorian sewers and fix leaky mains water pipes … That went well, didn’t it! 30 years on, a 2020 report found the businesses had been loaded up with £48bn of debt to help fund dividends of £57bn, while customers’ water bills increased 40 per cent above the rate of inflation. In 2021, despite grossly polluted foul water being discharged uncontrolled into our rivers and seas for 2.7 million hours, water company executives received an average £100k bonus on top of their salaries.
The water industry is not the only one raking in excessive profits. What we need is big bold honest government, with people and planet protected by appropriate regulations that are rigidly enforced by properly funded public authorities.
The Green Party is calling for essential services like water and energy to be brought into public ownership. Not easy, we know, but the plundering has to stop.