Monday, 1 September 2014

The benefits of privatisation.


In the previous article we went through a brief introduction of privatisation; now let's go onto the benefits of it.

The benefits come under various categories, however a theme runs throughout- that is of efficiency, a key component of business management.

A prominent difference between private and state companies is the (usual) difference in motive. Whereas state companies can have an unclear, difficult-to-measure motivation (usually to 'serve the public'), private companies are generally far more strictly profit-driven; they seek to serve shareholders primarily (who want their pockets to be lined handsomely).
Now there is debate over whether profit is such a good motive for companies (that we'll discuss in the next article), but profit motivation usually drives companies to increase their efficiency.

A common criticism of state-owned enterprise is its tendency to over-employ, often in order to score the ruling political power popularity points when it came to annual employment figures. Another crucial factor in this overemployment was the power of unions- public-owned enterprises were often under strong pressure from labour unions to avoid firing staff, which in many cases was not so helpful in terms of keeping staff in line and also efficiency.

Overemployment is crucial as it leads to increased losses in the form of wages, for employees who the company could, essentially, perform healthily without. Private companies tend to avoid inefficient practices such as overemployment- in fact they look at doing the contrary, to shed costs: and cutting down on staff is often the easiest way to do this.


British Airways, under Lord King's leadership developed from
an oversized, outstretched struggler to a world-class airline.
The privatisation of British Airways was notable for its crackdown on 'unnecessary' employees. Before privatisation, BA were employing almost 60,000 staff; a huge number, especially when compared to close competitor Qantas' 15,000.
However, following privatisation and under the rugged leadership of Lord King, the workforce was reduced to 38,000 in a period of just three years- among these over 50 senior executives, the company was rebranded entirely to a more 'American' style- enlisting help of a San Francisco-based design firm to lead rebadging, and cutting costs wherever possible- in inefficient flight routes, in excess staff members and so on.
These almost ruthless cutdowns paid dividends indeed- in 1987 BA posted after-tax profits of around £166 million, among the highest airline profits globally and certainly one of the highest BA had ever experienced.

Introduction of competition is often heralded as a crucial feature of privatisation. Privatisation often comes with an opening of the market to other private companies as well, a good example being the gas market following the privatisation of British Gas. Competition is often a great thing to have in a market, as it forces companies to innovate and provide what consumers want, in order to maintain and expand their market share (and receive more profits, of course). Competition introduces pressure on businesses; often a good influence from a customer's perspective.
This argument has its pitfalls- but in general competition in a market is necessary for development (think how competition between Apple and Samsung has boosted the rate of development in the technology market, or BMW and Mercedes the car market).


Another feature of privatisation is that it is a a way for a government to quickly raise some cash, to reduce deficits in particular. Between 1979 and 1999, the Treasury raised over £70 billion from asset sales such as that of British Airways, British Gas and other companies that were privatised.
However, this is not such a strong proponent of the pro-privatisation argument as we'll explore in the next article (but I'll give you a hint: *cough* Royal Mail *cough*)

So efficiency is the general theme of the pro-privatisation argument. Privatisation can cut down on the poor decisions driven by political motives rather than efficiency, it can introduce competition into a market by smashing state monopolies and it can be a quick boost to a nation's coffers.

Stick around: next time we'll explore the other side of this argument, and have a look at why privatisation may be in fact quite a bad idea.

SOURCES:
http://www.baserler.com/onur/isletme/Privatization%20of%20British%20Airways-Before%20and%20After.htm

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=R1YVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=a-QDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4326,3087813&dq=staff+british+airways

https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/British_Airways.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/investing/shares-and-stock-tips/9989430/Thatchers-legacy-how-has-privatisation-fared.html
Mohammad Lone Editor