Since the Thatcher revolution, most of Britain’s publicly owned utilities have been sold off. How did that work out? Alex Rankine reports. Most of Britain’s publicly owned utilities were sold into the private sector during the 1980s and early 1990s, starting with British Telecommunications in 1984 and ending with the sale of the railways under John Major’s government. Today, the bulk of utilities remain in private ownership, including the “big six” energy companies – which together account for roughly 90% of the energy retail market – and 17 private water providers, although Scotland and Northern Ireland have retained publicly owned water companies. A curious feature of Britain’s privatisation story is that even as the British state has stepped back from owning infrastructure, foreign firms and even governments have moved in, including energy supplier EDF Energy (a subsidiary of the national French power company) and the new South West Trains franchisee First MTR (which is partly owned by the Hong Kong government). Altogether, an Office of Fair Trading report in 2010 estimated that more than a third of the UK’s infrastructure is under foreign ownership. The question is highly contested. Many who remember the quality of service dished out by the old… Read full this story
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