The privatisation of national assets has always been a highly politically charged topic. Harold Macmillan famously likened Margaret Thatcher’s programme to “selling off the family silver”. Yet for all the scaremongering, the result has generally been a huge success. The UK’s car industry has gone from basket case to one of the most efficient in the world. Nobody today would seriously call for the renationalisation of BT, which is spending over £2bn on super-fast broadband, whilst our flag carrier, BA, is still a national champion; in fact, it is one of the most successful airlines in the world. The experience of privatisation is therefore one of success.
Yet there are still areas where private enterprise cannot tread, and not because it couldn’t succeed, but because it is politically unpalatable. Education is one such example, yet it is potentially an area where the private sector could really make a difference.
The Free Schools movement has shown that there is an appetite to break free from the chains of state control. Later this year, 79 new free schools will open their doors for the first time. These schools are funded on a comparable basis to other state-funded schools but possess a number of freedoms, including the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, freedom from following the National Curriculum, greater control of their budget, freedom to change the length of terms and school days, and freedom from local authority control. Yet for the private sector to really make a difference, we must ask ourselves whether we are prepared for companies to be able to profit from their services?