Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Dechene interviews Maude Barlow about the downside of privatizing public infrastructure:
Somebody asked me to point blank explain the difference between private and public and I said, profit. That’s the difference. In a public system, it’s the same amount of money; you’re raising it from taxes or you’re raising it from water rates, water services. And so the same amount of money has to cover for a private company not only the supposed delivery of whatever services they’re delivering but profit for their investors. Something has to give. And that’s the fundamental difference. It doesn’t take long for most municipalities to figure that out. Often, the company comes back — this is just standard — the company comes back to the local municipality and says, Gee it’s more expensive than we thought and we’re in cost overruns and we have to charge more, we can’t keep going. So, they either back out of it, or the city backs out of it or renegotiates and gives them more money. This is just classic.
There’s obviously no reason to think that a private company is any more efficient than the public company. If in fact they were to set rates and the municipality were not to budge, then you’d start to see declining services because the company simply has to make money, they have to make profit and something would go.

On average what goes is 30 to 50 per cent of the workforce. When you have a broken sewer line down the way it doesn’t get fixed that day. The water coming out of your tap, you’re not very happy with. It may be a week before someone comes to fix it. This is the story around the world of privatized systems. The only way they can keep up with the public system is to keep raising water rates. So they either cut their workforce in half or 25 to 35 per cent. Or they cut services. You simply cannot as a for-profit entity do the same job and find a 15-20 per cent overhead profit to send to your investors and not have something giving. It’s just a fallacy that the private sector can do it better than the public sector. If the job is done properly, it’s done properly.

I’m not saying the private sector can’t do it properly. But even if they do it properly they have to find that overhead for the profit and that’s the essential difference here.
- And Toby Sanger looks at the risks and rewards involved in Regina's wastewater treatment plant:
The only real risk private operators assume in a P3 is limited by the net amount of unsecured money or equity they have in the project: usually no more than 10-15% of their total capital, as I pointed out in a previous post.   Since P3s are set up as “special purpose vehicles”, the big companies behind them can simply walk away if they aren’t making enough profit or if problems develop, or use the threat of doing so to get more money out of the government.   The maximum they lose is their unsecured equity and cash.  And a number of P3 companies have abandoned their projects—from small P3 arenas in Ottawa to the multi-billion dollar Metronet failure in London—leaving government with the responsibility for delivering the service and paying off the creditors.

Any calculations of risk transfer exceeding the private equity in a project should have no credibility.   The amount of private equity involved in the Regina wastewater plant has not been revealed, but with total private financing at just over $118 million, it is highly unlikely the private equity share (usually a maximum of 15%, so $18 million) exceeds the estimated value of risk they claim will be transferred, which amounts to $40 million according to some of their calculations.

So even if the city administration continues to hide the financial details, it appears these claims of risk transfer are simply not credible.
 - Jim Stanford notes that public-sector austerity figures to undermine the lone force that's allowed Canada to recover from the 2008 recession. And Gayle MacDonald discusses how the Toronto Centre by-election will offer a choice between a candidate who understands both the origins of inequality and the possible solutions, and one who plans to brand herself as a voice on inequality while leaving any detailed thought about where it comes from and what to do about it some unspecified point in the future.

- Caroline Fairchild reports on the obvious link between unionization and reasonable middle-class wages.

- Finally, Lana Payne discusses the dangers of allowing any level of government to silence both dissenting opinions and the people who hold them.

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