Opinion  

Royal Mail selloff is a slippery slope

Bethany Rutter

I was recently at a talk where a senior figure in financial services advocated investing in private finance initiative schemes that build hospitals – precisely the scheme that saw Lewisham Hospital in crisis and facing the closure of its much-needed maternity wards and accident and emergency department. I bristled at this, confused as to why you’d want to contribute to a culture of privatisation. This alerted me to the fact that I’m possibly too naïve to function.

My notorious, green naivety struck again recently when I was thinking about the Royal Mail selloff and my spider senses started tingling.

Surely it’s not too much of a pessimistic leap to ask, after the enormous ‘success’ of the selloff, what will be the next publicly-owned service to be seized upon by the government. There isn’t a lot left to sell off these days, but creating a consumer appetite for privatisation is a problematic, if not dangerous, standard to set.

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If selling off Royal Mail wasn’t bad enough, the thought of privatising £45.6bn of student debt is stomach-turning, and if you’re anti-nuclear, retail investors being offered a stake in state-owned Urenco uranium enrichment company should come as troubling news.

It’s clear now that Mr Cameron needs no encouragement in implementing the sinister ‘popular capitalism’.

The public appetite for buying shares seems to have eclipsed the news that the Royal Mail was valued by banks not involved in the sale at up to 500p per share, though when they went on sale it was at just 330p per share. Although the share price has risen, it obviously raises questions over whether the government priced a functioning national asset too cheaply.

Maybe there are issues around public engagement, too. Getting more people interested in investing is probably a good thing, and for many, Royal Mail shares were their first step into the world of investment. These, however, were not really treated like normal shares and it feels as if they whipped up a particular consumer frenzy not usually associated with share purchase. Creating such a hype around an investment surely means that greater education about the process and role of investing is needed.

I’m perfectly aware that my personal politics are the entire basis of my fears, but I firmly believe that keeping an eye on ethics at all times is not a bad place to start.