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Think tank says UK is “out of step” with the rest of the world by shunning public ownership

09.07.2014 EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01HRS, 10 JULY 2014

  • New paper for Class finds major democracies are beginning to renationalise public assets
  • Private education leads to lower investment – e.g. investment in rail rolling stock fell by 60% between 2007 and 2012
  • While the UK shuns public ownership, 25% of the energy sector is now in the hands of publicly-owned companies in foreign countries

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Contact: Ellie O’Hagan


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The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) has today [Thursday] released a paper by leading academic, Professor Andrew Cumbers, calling upon the UK government to adopt new and diverse forms of public ownership, and argues the UK is falling out of step with the rest of the world which is beginning to turn away from privatisation.

The paper is released ahead of the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum on 18 July, which is expected to feature key debates about rail re-nationalisation.

The paper argues that privatisation of public assets leads to a climate of short-term decision making against the public interest. For example, public subsidies to private rail companies have increased, while investment has fallen. Investment in rolling stock in the five years prior to rail privatisation was over 60 per cent higher than in the five-year period to 2012.

The paper also draws attention to the large fraction of UK public assets which are now in the hands of state-owned foreign companies. 25% of the British energy sector is owned by such companies, and the move to privatise energy has led to a 10-20% increase in energy prices.

The paper points out that many other countries are now moving away from privatising national assets in favour of public ownership. Since the year 2000, 86 cities worldwide have nationalised their water supply, including the US cities Atlanta, Houston, and Indianapolis. In Germany, over 100 energy concessions have returned to public hands since 2007.

Andrew Cumbers said: “Too many times privatisation in Britain has led to short termism and the appropriation of common resources for private gain, and as a result we are now seriously out of step with the rest of the world on this issue.

“The time has come for the UK to get in step with progressive democracies elsewhere and adopt new and diverse forms of public ownership. Public assets must be used for the common good.”

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors:

1.The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is a new think tank established in 2012 by Unite the Union, GMB and the Institute of Employment Rights to act as a centre for left debate and discussion and has the growing support of a number of trade Unions including ASLEF, CWU, FEU, GFTU, NUT, PCS, PFA, TSSA, UCATT, MU and NUM. Originating in the labour movement, Class is working with a broad coalition of supporters, academics and experts to develop and advance alternative policies for today.

2. An advance copy of ‘Renewing Public Ownership: Constructing a Democratic Economy in the Twenty-First Century’ is available for journalists here:

3. To reference the paper, use this link after 00.01hrs on 10 July 2014:

4. The author of the paper:
Andrew Cumbers is Professor of Political Economy in the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow. He has published widely on urban and regional economic development, alternative economic strategies and economic democracy.  He is the author of Reclaiming Public Ownership: Making Space for Economic Democracy (published in 2012 by Zed Books). He is also editor in chief of the leading international journal Urban Studies.

More information

For further information, articles, interviews or media requests please contact Ellie O’Hagan on or 020 7611 2569.