Ripping off the citizens of Britain has become a spectator sport – from energy and water bills to exorbitant rail fares, we’re all busy lining the pockets of wealthy ‘investors’ – by Aditya Chakrabortty: excerpts via the Guardian
The British are now world-beaters at paying other people to rip them off. We are number one at handing over cash to “investors” who do no investing, to “entrepreneurs” who run monopolies – and who then turn around and tap us up for a bit more on the way out.
British Gas announces its electricity prices will rise by 12.5%, starting next month. Just as the cold nights start drawing in, more than 3 million Britons will find their bills are more expensive. Never mind that the competition watchdog judged last year that British Gas and other energy giants were taking well over a billion pounds a year through “excessive prices”. This privatised industry has a tradition of ripping off loyal customers to uphold.
Think about the scandal of people having to pay huge ground rents just to stay in their own homes. For years, big property developers have been flogging the freeholds on newly built estates to speculators, often based offshore, whose only relationship with the people living there is to hit them with ever-larger bills. Tens of thousands of families have been bundled up and turned into human revenue streams. Nor are they alone. Whether as taxpayers or consumers, pretty much everyone in Britain is now human feedstock for Big Capital.
If, like me, you live in London and use water, you are forced to give your business to Thames Water. The same Thames Water that is owned by a consortium of international investors, whose interests were until recently managed by Macquarie, an investment firm with headquarters in Australia. I have reported before on this arrangement, which ran from December 2006 until March of this year. Between 2006 and 2015, Thames Water divvied up £1.6bn in dividends to its small circle of shareholders, who in turn loaded up the company with billions in debt.
These “investors” were not doing much investing – indeed, they will shoulder neither the costs nor the risks of building London’s £4bn super-sewer. Much of the money will come from me and Thames Water’s 15 million other customers, through our bills. Between 2011 and 2015, the company paid no corporation tax at all.
Train operators are subsidised to the tune of billions by public money – only to penalise the public with eye-watering fares and crap broadband. We pay them to rip us off. Ponder the new nuclear station about to be built by the Chinese and French at Hinkley Point, at an estimated cost to British households of £30bn. Neither David Cameron nor Theresa May would countenance the British government creating a new power station, but they will pay way over the odds for foreign governments to do so.
Leaving the EU won’t change any of this.