The Goddess of Health and Safety ... Gone Mad

To me "soteria" has always meant salvation or, in the Greek of the New Testament, to be made whole or in other words healed. But the Greek word is feminine—as with most abstract concepts—and so I don't much mind that the consortium that will tomorrow be announced as the PFI contractor to run search and rescue services around Britain say "Soteria is the Greek goddess of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm" ... although the more mischievous side of me thinks that in this age she might be better called the Goddess of Health and Safety.


But leaving the name to one side, this is yet another example of the privatization of what used to be a public service. And although it's been brought to fruition under the ConDem government, I'm afraid it was the Labour government before it that set the contract up back in February of this year.

     Private firm to run search and rescue helicopters

The party that is now making so much noise about what is happening to public services is the very same party that is in fact responsible for this privatization. And if there are question marks over the level of service—and of course there are, as we can read here—any blame must lie with the Labour party that instigated this privatization rather than anywhere else. That should be a sobering reminder for anyone who is still thinking of voting for the Labour party in the Assembly elections next year in response to what the ConDem coalition is doing in Westminster. Don't be fooled. There is no difference between them.


Now I don't know to what extent the rescue services that we rely on in Wales, based at RAF Fali and RAF Chivenor in Devon will be affected. Things should be clearer tomorrow. But this much is certain: the PFI contract will be for 25 years; so even though the cut backs might arguably be necessary in the present economic crisis, the chances of restoring the levels of service back to what they were after the economic situation improves are going to be severely limited by the terms of the PFI contract. For, as with any contract, things are fine when the service required can be clearly defined, but any subsequent variations to the contract that change the level of service will not come cheap.

And although the offer from Soteria looks attractive in technical terms, do we really want to be stuck with a level of service in 25 years' time that is state-of-the-art today? Of course not. That would be as silly as saying we would today be content with the same level of rescue service that we had 25 years ago. Times change and technology improves. So it is complete folly for a government to tie itself into an arrangement in which any improvement will be at whatever extra price the PFI consortium cares to name.


So why on earth are we doing it? In part it is the fetish of privatization so loved by first the Tories, then Labour, and now by the Tories and LibDems together ... but only in part. Up until now we have generally relied on our armed forces to provide the backbone of such a service, at least in terms of the equipment and facilities. There is an obvious synergy between the two, for when our island is not threatened by war we have trained pilots whose skills on the battlefield will be just as valuable when used for rescue. And our armed forces also have the flexibility to respond to any disaster without being followed by a set of accountants eager to work out how much the PFI consortium should be billed.

But the UK can now no longer follow a model that has worked well for decades. Because the UK government prefers to use our armed forces not for our defence, but to attack, invade and maintain a military presence in other countries, our armed forces are stretched to breaking point. This privatization is necessary because of that, and is in fact a direct result of the UK's foreign policy.

Now of course it is up to government to decide what our foreign policy should be. I would simply note that a very large chunk of the £6bn that this contract was due to cost back in February (or whatever the revised cost turns out to be when announced tomorrow ... and whatever the inevitable additional costs will be because of the factors I explained above) will be directly attributable to our continued presence in Afghanistan ... and whatever country the US invites us to invade next.

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. The UK has gone mad.

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Anonymous said...

Nothing new here, it has always happened.

Either the Conservative started privatisation and Labour continued with it, or we're getting the reverse.

Remember The Royal Mail?

Unknown said...

Labour paved the way for most if not all of the main Tory bugbears- privatisation, welfare cuts, slashing the Welsh budget, free schools (Blair's academies), cutting civilian defence jobs, weakening civil service terms and conditions (in order to ram through mass redundancies).

Labour's record was not progressive and we should point out that they're basically two wings of the same party, despite their cosmetic disagreements.

This key rescue service should be kept with the military, it is productive and allows them to make a positive and vital contribution to the north-west of Wales.

Owen said...

The military already has the facilities to train pilots, maintain and buy/replace helicopters and the experience of the terrain/area to back it up. If the MOD didn't have such an awful procurement record they might not have needed to "outsource" S&R and be able to buy new helicopters themselves.

This isn't privitisation, it's effectively a massive state subsidy of a private company, just like the railways. I just hope that Ynys Mon doesn't lose out under this.

Of course these services could be brought back under the military banner with any future Welsh Armed Forces.

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