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This week alone shares in Carillion have plummeted by around 22 per cent [Image: Reuters].

Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher sold us a pup. She told us private companies could run public services more cost-effectively than government. Either she was badly mistaken or she was lying.

Most voters believed her, though, and in the decades that followed, she and her successors have sold off as many public utilities and services as they could, hiring private contractors in to run crucial aspects of most of the others.

The Carillion case is indicative of what happens next.

The outsourcing company, which has maintenance contracts in the NHS, a contract for work on the HS2 rail link, contracts with the Ministry of Defence, and is a major supplier of rail infrastructure, is in serious financial trouble.

Its major lenders – banks including Lloyds and RBS – have rejected the company’s rescue plan and are urging the government to pay off its debts – using public money.

So these banks – who were themselves bailed out with public money when they caused the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession 10 years ago – are now saying they need the public to bail out this private company, because they won’t.

It is the most damning evidence possible that privatisation of public services is a failure.

The idea of privatisation was that the public wouldn’t have to pay for services. Instead, it seems we are being asked to pay time and time again.

We bailed out the banks once; now they want us to bail them out again, repaying their loans to Carillion.

No! Let the company go out of business and take the contracts back in-house.

Oh, but the Tories probably can’t manage that because the state no longer has the wherewithal to carry out that kind of work. Typical Tory short-sightedness.

Another brilliant example of the same stupidity is rail privatisation. Private companies took over rail services in the 1990s, and we were led to believe that this would lead to better services, with profits being ploughed into infrastructure and other improvements. Instead, the public subsidy has skyrocketed and so have fares; 70 per cent of our rail companies are owned by foreign concerns (some of them, ironically, nationalised) which means we are subsidising rail services abroad rather than funding improvements here, and those that aren’t seem to be in permanent financial difficulties, meaning more public money is used to bail them out. Look at the Virgin East Coast franchise.

Do you call that value for money? Because I don’t.

It should be no surprise that Chris Grayling is the transport secretary who has admitted Virgin overbid for the East Coast franchise. The company offered to pay too much and that is, we’re told, why it is in financial difficulty now. The same thing happened with the probation service when Mr Grayling was justice secretary.

The social media commentariat have been on the case, of course, so I refer you to a few people who understand the situation better than myself – for the benefit of those who won’t just take my word for it:

I don’t know about good, but grief is certainly an appropriate word.

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