The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) yesterday accused the government of privatising and ‘selling off the family silver at a knock down price’ to pay for the failure of the City and financial institutions.
The charge came as Gordon Brown today announced a £16 billion public assets sell-off as part of moves to stabilise public finances.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: ‘The government is privatising and selling off the family silver to pay for the failures of the City and the financial institutions that caused the financial meltdown.
‘We have already seen the government’s diabolical track record of selling off assets at a knock down price with the controversial sale of QintetiQ, where Chief Executive Sir John Chisholm saw his personal investment of £0.13 million increase to £26 million on flotation of the company.
‘Handing over key assets at a snip to private companies, and possibly some of the financial institutions that caused the financial crisis, is disgraceful and will offer poor value to taxpayers.
‘The government should be looking at the billions in tax that is lost through avoidance and evasion rather than handing over key public assets on a platter to the private sector.’
A spokesperson for Unison said: ‘Just last month the government announced plans to build 2,000 more council homes.
‘It makes no sense now to be urging councils to sell off houses or land.
‘This may result in short term profit, but will have long-term damaging consequences.’
The University and College Union (UCU) said the government had to make a clear case for the sale of public assets, including the student loans book.
The union also warned that the government needed to make a clear commitment that, if the sale was to go ahead, future students would not be hit with increased interest rates on their repayments.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The government has tried to sell off parts of the student loans book before, but not gone through with it because it didn’t feel the taxpayer would get a good deal.
‘It now needs to make the case to the taxpayer that this would represent a good deal if it is to go ahead.
‘As students are forced to borrow more to meet the cost of their university education, we need a guarantee that the interest rate on student loans will not rise and we will not move towards a system with a commercial rate of borrowing.’
Hunt went on to criticise the Student Loans Company (SLC) for the current fiasco with the late payments of loans money to students.
She said: ‘Many students and parents may welcome the loans book being sold off considering the current fiasco the SLC is presiding over.
‘It is totally unacceptable that so many students are still waiting to receive money, particularly first year students.
‘Furthermore, many parents, who will already have done their best to support their kids, will struggle to provide desperately needed funds for their offspring.’
Reacting to Brown’s speech, City accountants Ernst & Young’s economic forecasting group, the ITEM Club, said: ‘The government’s sale of assets worth £16bn may be a first step towards helping to plug the deficit.
‘However, this is still a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of cut-backs required to restore order to the public finances.
‘There is no escaping the fact that real cuts in public spending will be necessary once the recovery is established.’