Whitehall will be sold off in the name of reform

 

Westminster Outlook Royal Mail aside, this Tory-led Coalition has not been a government marked by grand privatisations.

Indeed, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has been fairly true to his word in a meeting with CBI director-general John Cridland three years ago. A leaked memo showed Mr Maude vowed that there "would not be a return to the 1990s with wholesale outsourcing to the private sector".

Although he was once a managing director at Morgan Stanley, Mr Maude argued that the Government "was not prepared to run the political risk of fully transferring services to the private sector". The Horsham MP did not want the Coalition to be accused of "allowing excess profitmaking by private sector firms".

Instead, the Coalition has altered the corporate status of great swathes of the state, slowly ripening departmental bodies for privatisation. Large chunks of taxpayer-funded work, from the £14bn-budget arm of the Ministry of Defence that buys military kit to parts of the Health & Safety Executive, have been loosened from the Civil Service's grip and granted certain commercial freedoms.

The legislatively thin Queen's Speech on Wednesday might have betrayed that this is a Coalition preparing for separation at next year's general election, yet still there was a continuation of this policy.

The Infrastructure Bill will turn the Highways Agency – which runs, maintains and improves Britain's most important 4,300 miles of motorways and trunk roads – into a Government-owned company. This means the agency will be able to break the Civil Service's strict pay code to help attract top staff from the private sector and could be granted certain borrowing powers, in moves the Coalition believes will save £2.6bn over 10 years.

The transport minister, Robert Goodwill, has been very clear that he doesn't see this as a move towards privatisation, as many industry insiders hope and virtually all union chiefs fear.

What is unquestionable, though, is that it will be less of a major step, and therefore not as controversial, for a future government to sell off the Highways Agency – as well as those other parts of the state that have been commercialised under David Cameron's watch.

This leaves two big questions: will a Conservative government armed with a sizeable majority after the next election make that final, decisive move and float shares in these agencies or at least outsource the management to the likes of Serco and Capita? And what is next?

I'm not sure of the answer to the first, but I'd be willing to bet that the Government is taking a good hard look at the Environment Agency.

After being trounced for its lax response to the winter floods, the Environment Agency finds itself in a precarious position. And this gives the Government the excuse it barely needs to expand a policy of commercialising Whitehall under the guise of necessary reform.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test