John McDonnell argues dividends should have gone to public

Posted On: 
11th November 2017

John McDonnell will argue today that more than £37bn that has been paid to shareholders of privatised rail, telecoms, energy and water companies could and should have been invested in public services.

The Shadow Chancellor will speak against privatisation later today
PA Images

The £37bn figure comes from new Labour research. The party made nationalisation a major plank of its manifesto at the 2017 election, promising to bring “key utilities back into public ownership to deliver lower prices, more accountability and a more sustainable economy”. 

Speaking in Lincoln later today, the Shadow Chancellor will say: “These figures show what could have gone into investment in these public services in order to expand and improve them or keep their charges down.

“Families suffer from stagnant wages not being able to keep up with prices of items like energy bills, and underfunded public services, yet billions has gone into the hands of shareholders,” he will say.

“The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and we will look to bring back in to public ownership many of the vital services sold off by the Tories, which are undermining the living standards of millions of working households.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ deputy director Carl Emmerson said profit alone was not the key argument for renationalising privatised companies: “The argument being made here could be made about any profitable company – that dividends could go the Treasury rather than to shareholders.

“However, we don’t tend to think that the government is best placed issuing lots of debt buying up companies just because they are profitable, because the private sector is often better at managing things like risk than government. Otherwise the government could just buy Apple. The argument for nationalisation is usually a different one than the one being made here. It’s about how who can manage it best.”