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De-industrialised Britain is the biggest loser of open trade

Michael White
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The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is sparking much debate about open trade. Lucky the Commons health committee is broadening evidence for its annual spending inquiry and seeking advice on the EU/US initiative.


My own Twitter-monstered view on the case for greater diversity of healthcare provision in Britain’s NHS is that private and voluntary entrants should shake up a near monopoly system in more useful ways than it will damage them.

The process will also dispel the myth that privatisation is any panacea since the private sector will mostly fail and retire hurt.

‘Big private contractors providing state services are rarely free of negative headlines’

Health Service Journal reported recently that clinical commissioning group interest in “any qualified provider” contracts is fast dwindling, contrary to the Lansley Master Plan of 2010. It suggests that bubble may be pricked, as the private finance initiative has been as an easy source of expensive capital: Wonga on the wards.

By the same token, big private contractors providing state services such as Serco and G4S are rarely free of negative headlines.

This week MPs gave the arm’s length Passport Agency a kicking for poor management. The Home Office should take it back, MPs said. “Steady on,” I muttered.

The slow burn issue

All the same, I twitch when I read that management consultants and private corporations such as UnitedHealth (the US health giant where Simon Stevens worked before returning to run the even larger NHS) are getting official briefings on contract bidding.

Sunshine is always a good disinfectant.

‘Sunshine is always a good disinfectant’

So what should we make of TTIP? It’s been a slow burn issue for a while now. But last week’s annual TUC conference in Liverpool, no longer the important event it was, did its best to change that.

It warned that the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership now being negotiated in private between the EU and the Obama administration is not about expanding world trade, but about stripping away tiresome European regulations that provide protection to workers and consumers.

Winners and losers

Open trade like open borders always throws up winners and losers.

China, which cheats on trade, is currently the biggest winner and de-industrialised Britain (have demoralised Scots voted Yes yet?) a loser. A year ago the SNP was saying TTIP was no problem, but has changed its opportunist tune.

Since the US’s capacity to earn its living by making things has declined, it has been using its atrophying clout to promote its service and software industries.

Sometimes it cheats too, but is not always wrong. The Financial Times’ John Gapper, who I trust, says Google is right and Brussels wrong to claim the IT giant abuses its dominance.

Mouthy left wing commentators, who I don’t always trust, say TTIP will complete Andrew Lansley’s life’s work and open the NHS floodgates to the likes of UnitedHealth.

Their feared key is a TTIP concept called the investor-state dispute settlement that would allow corporations to sue for lost earnings even when a contract goes wrong.

‘Burnham says Labour would exempt the NHS from TTIP and Hunt should be less complacent’

I simplify, but a bunch of New York spivs is currently suing Argentina over a debt default and capitalism’s good guys are (for once) on shifty Argentina’s side.

At present talkative Jeremy Hunt is saying nothing, because TTIP is a business department issue and UK trade talks are handled by Brussels where the EU’s trade commissioner says it won’t impact on health service commissioning.

Andy Burnham says Labour would exempt the NHS from TTIP and Hunt should be less complacent.

The Whitehall word is that TTIP won’t change the rules but might encourage more foreign investment via better protection (for investors).

Civitas ran a TTIP-hostile piece, but most rightwing think tanks and newspapers seem quiet.

Suspicious? But good news: the Commons health committee is broadening its range of evidence for its annual health spending inquiry and one topic on which it seeks advice is TTIP.

Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian

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