by Nick Mathiason
The World Trade Organisation and big business are
demanding the sweeping liberalisation of Britain's
public services, new government documents reveal.
Sensitive areas that multinationals are keen to
break into include the health and education sectors.
A government consultation report released last week
says the UK faces demands to 'remove all establishment
restrictions on hospital and social services, rest,
convalescent and old people's homes'.
Other demands include the removal of distinctions
between postal and courier services and calls for
Britain to end subsidies to broadcasting organisations.
This could have massive implications for the BBC.
Details of demands by overseas countries emerged
last Thursday, when the government published an update
on progress towards a new WTO Treaty - the General
Agreement of Trade in Services (Gats). Under Gats
countries will be forced to open up their services to
overseas companies. If they refuse, final authority
will rest with the Gats Disputes Panel, which will
determine whether national law or regulation is 'more
burdensome than necessary'.
There are growing concerns that Gats will lead to
the full-scale privatisation of public monopolies
across the world. Barry Coates, director of the World
Development Movement, said: 'Decisions now on public
services in many cases are guided by active public
'This can change policy. Look at Railtrack. But
under Gats, commitments are irrevocable. Countries
will be locked in, which is incompatible with
Howard Catton, senior policy adviser at the Royal
College of Nursing, said: 'If services are opened up
so that the private sector can provide them, that
means the NHS may look at what it provides and the
implications this has for risk pooling and the principles behind the NHS come into question.'
Formal offers for liberalisation between countries
will begin in March next year. Organisations have
until January to submit responses to the Department of
Trade and Industry.
The treaty covers all services from water, energy,
telecoms to financial,
The services sector contributes 70 per cent of the
Gross Domestic Product and employs 23 million people.