Don’t privatise public services

STEAMING AHEAD: There's no demand for privatising the the heritage railways

STEAMING AHEAD: There's no demand for privatising the the heritage railways

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THERE is little public support for private operation of government services.

That is the latest finding of the Manx People Power survey, a pre-election telephone poll of a representative sample of 1,055 people, conducted by HPI Research.

Manx People Power report findings, published in last week’s Examiner, suggested that the island would be a safe Conservative Party seat, with 36 per cent of those polled saying they would vote Tory.

But what kind of Conservative? Right wing supporters of wide scale privatisation, or moderate Conservatives with a small ‘c’? Responses to questions about how government services should be operated suggest the latter.

Those polled were asked: ‘Do you think that the following buildings or services should be operated by the Isle of Man Government, companies, or volunteers?’

The questions related to operation, not ownership, of these facilities.

Without exception, interviewees thought each of the 12 specified facilities should be run by the government.

Preference for government operation was highest for Jurby Prison (86 per cent), ports and harbours (79 per cent), road maintenance (76 per cent), Post Office (74 per cent), and bus services (71 per cent). A total of 66 per cent said the government should run the airport and 65 per cent said the Manx Electric Railway should continue to be government operated. The preference was narrowest for Villa and Gaiety (51 per cent), horse trams (57 per cent), the Manx Electricity Authority (61 per cent), and the Isle of Man Steam Railway (62 per cent).

Some 41 per cent said companies should run the Villa and Gaiety, while 34 per cent said the MEA should be run by a company. A total of 29 per cent said a company should take over the running of the airport and 26 per cent said this should happen with the bus operation.

When it came to the horse trams – which are actually under Douglas Council, not Isle of Man Government, control – 18 per cent said they should be run by a company and 20 per cent said they should be in the hands of volunteers. With the Steam Railway, 18 per cent said volunteers should take over and the same percentage said a company should be in charge. At the MER, these figures were 15 and 18 per cent respectively.

There was a majority in favour of the government running the Isle of Man Steam Packet (54 per cent), but this would only be feasible if it were to be purchased – expensive and unlikely.

Hugh Davidson, who commissioned the Manx People Power survey, said: ‘This question explored how Manx government assets should be operated, and did not cover privatisation. The latter has not been wildly popular with British voters in recent times, and in the past year YouGov polls have shown a majority in favour of public ownership of the Post Office, NHS Blood, and Forests.’

In September 2006, the Quayle Report on Scope and Structure of Government examined a range of options for certain activities, mainly corporatising (government ownership, commercial operation), and contracting out.

Its preferred options, based on preliminary assessments were to corporatise buses, Ronaldsway, Harbours, Water, the MEA, and Post Office; and to contract out other activities.

This is a complex area, and other aspects of the Quayle Report may be reconsidered by the new Isle of Man Government when it takes office, since the Manx People Power report shows public dissatisfaction with the efficiency of government spending.

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