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Renewing Public Ownership: Constructing a Democratic Economy in the Twenty-First Century

Since 1979 the privatisation and marketization policies of successive governments have delivered the economy into the hands of a narrow set of vested corporate and financial interests. The consequences are that decision-making is geared towards short-term profit and rent-seeking, at the expense of more longer-term thinking and in particular strategic concerns for the common good.

Privatisation has also been accompanied by a growing foreign ownership of the UK’s most strategically important resources and assets, raising important questions about government’s ability to control and administer important public policy objectives such as tackling climate change and providing essential services to the public at the lowest cost.

In response, this report argues that the UK needs to rethink its approach to ownership and control of the economy, developing more democratic institutions and structures that re-distribute economic decision-making power beyond its capture by financial, corporate and foreign interests.

In particular we need to create new forms of public and collective ownership that are better able to develop an economy to serve social needs and environmental concerns over private gain. Such forms of ownership should combine higher level strategic coordination with more localised forms of public ownership. In all cases, though, ownership should seek to enhance democratic accountability and public engagement in the economy.

The failures of privatisation in other countries are producing a growing trend to take back utility sectors into public ownership. A range of new and hybrid forms of public ownership are detailed in this report that offer solutions for dealing with the UK’s growing democratic deficit in the economy.

The report also counters some of the widespread myths and caricatures of past forms of nationalisation in the UK to stress the under-reported effectiveness of many forms of public ownership at delivering public goals, in contrast to the experience with privatisation.