Sell or not – and what happens next?

Tonight’s Dispatches on Channel 4 is going to be interesting – they’re doing a live debate on what state assets should be sold off, and have created an online version for us to see what we’d like to get rid of.

There are different reasons for selling off state-owned assets – are they irrelevant (why do we own motorway service stations?) or do they actually cost us money (why should we pay for judges’ homes?), or can we no longer afford them, or can the service be provided better in a different way?

I’d make the case that for the most part, many of the assets in the Channel 4 game should indeed be sold off or otherwise put outside central state control (and that’s two different things, before you start accusing me of wanting to close the NHS).

Why doesn’t the government do an annual audit of its possessions and make sure it’s making the maximum use of them – why, for example, do we have 10,000 football pitches’ worth of land sitting unused?

As I’ve mentioned before, however, I do worry that this might look like a firesale, and as a result not get us the best prices. That’s why I think that today’s idea of allocating bank shares to individuals with some sort of shared payback with the government when we sell them might be quite a successful one.

In the longer-term, though, once we’ve done this round of sales, what’s left? What happens next time Labour nearly bankrupts us?

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