Magazine article Management Today

A Matter of Nerve

Magazine article Management Today

A Matter of Nerve

Article excerpt

Bumper profits, monopoly power, directors' telephone number salary rises and customers paying through the nose- such recent banner headlines about the antics of recently privatised companies make the whole privatisation exercise stink. What was a Tory election winner in 1987 is set to be a Labour trump card in 1992. This would be a pity.

For all its warts, the privatisation programme has liberated managers in what were sleepy old industries, to face up to economic realities. Who could have imagined the old Post Office (where British Telecom was but a department a decade ago) investing enormous sums in its digital network, powering into international markets and upgrading phone boxes et al. Or Thames Water (as our cover story on p34 shows) turning itself from a sleepy appendage of local government into a dynamic cost-conscious business.

Managers who have escaped the dead hand of state control, revel in the removal of the business-crippling role of the Treasury as an investment rationer which had nothing to do with business realities and everything to do with government's (usually crisis-driven) economic policy.

Should the Tories win their fourth term (by no means certain because of their own economic incompetence), they will very likely wind up the privatisation programme with the last candidates on the privatisation agenda: coal, rail, the Post Office and various government services and functions. Selling coal and the Post Office should be relatively straight-forward. Government services, national or local, will simply be open to competition, which leaves good old British Rail as the one great headache.

Malcolm Rifkind, the eighth government transport secretary since 1979 and perhaps the most sympathetic to rail, is cautiously moving in the right direction. He plans to open up BR to more competition from private operators in freight and passenger traffic. …

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