GORDON Brown yesterday confirmed that a government run by him would hand over the running of the public sector to an independent committee, which would have a completely free hand to further the government strategy of privatisation.
He said this move followed on from his handing over of decisions on interest rates to a committee of bankers’ representatives at the Bank of England, the Monetary Policy Committee.
When challenged by BBC interviewer Jon Sopel that this would mean handing over the NHS outright to private companies – as Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had said last week – Brown didn’t deny that this would happen, but merely equivocated.
He said that there were things that could be much better administered by other people than the government, indicating that the whole public sector could be handed over to the private sector to run and even own.
Brown was interviewed during a trip to New York last week, in the run-up to the Labour Party conference, during which he had a series of meetings with US ‘captains of industry and world finance’, a behind-closed-doors meeting with ex-US President Clinton and, it is understood, a secret meeting with Rupert Murdoch.
The British chancellor insisted that he was in favour of preserving a ‘very special relationship’ with the United States, even though it was put to him that it was a very ‘one-sided one’.
Continuing to boast about handing power over interest rates to the Bank of England, he said: ‘We gave executive power away – and I believe that in other areas we can do that. . .
‘Government still set the general policy. . . but the administration of that was clearly in the hands of people who were better able to do it.’
He added: ‘There are certain things you do not need to do. . .
‘This is a different world. . . we’ve got to have new policies for new times.’
When confronted about whether there were any ‘limits’ to the role of the private sector in the NHS, Brown said: ‘Essentially, the private sector is doing part of the job of the health service but not all of the job of the health service and I think most people would accept that, and I think in America of course a very large part of the health care system is also either managed or financed publicly as well.’
He added: ‘You’re talking about the National Health Service in Britain and you’re talking about major reforms that we’re bringing in, that I support, bringing in private finance to build hospitals, bringing in private contractors to do certain goods, having a range of options that are available to the health service to buy from the private sector – of course the health service has always brought in the drugs and its treatments from the private sector as well.
‘But this is still the National Health Service, using private as well as public investment, and I don’t think anybody who is talking about the future of the health service within the Labour government is envisaging the total privatisation of the National Health Service.’
It was revealed earlier yesterday that Brown was in favour of handing the NHS over to an ‘independent’ board.
Under his plans, ministers would set the NHS budget and ‘strategic objectives’, and the private sector would carry it out, starting with the ‘independent board’.
The chairman of the British Medical Association, James Johnson, said: ‘The controversial aspect of the health service at the moment is the strategic direction, not the detail.
‘If you hand the detail over to somebody else but leave the strategy with politicians, it would do nothing to remove the current criticisms of the direction in which the government is taking the NHS.’
The BMA at its annual meeting this summer called for a halt to any further privatisation of the NHS.