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A DIFFERENT KIND OF NATIONAL SECURITY

07-06-2008

security

Food, energy, water...the basics of civilised life. So shouldn't we be doing more to ensure we keep our hands on them, asks Barbara Panvel?

The words ‘national security’ conjure up images of MI5 & 6 and the armed forces. Our basic survival needs, however, are for food and water. Energy, transport and communications systems are vitally important secondary facilities.

The importance of food security is at last becoming more widely recognised but few questions are raised as airports, rail, gas, electricity and water systems pass into German, French, American, Spanish and Australian ownership.

Other countries are more thoughtful.

The Japanese government recently rejected a London-based hedge fund’s bid to increase its stake in J-Power, the Japanese electricity utility, on the grounds of national security.

America seeks landing slots in British airports but has refused repeated requests to grant equal access to British airlines.

Germany passed a law in May protecting Volkswagen from takeover, despite opposition from the European Commissioner and threats of sanctions.

Sweden’s armed forces are concerned about the ongoing sale of the country’s state-controlled telecommunications company, fearing that the new owner would be able to access secret locations of military hardware and listen to or hijack international communications.

Bankers involved in the sale say that potential bidders are French, German and Chinese companies, Chinese and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds.

Just as there is a move to to be less dependent by increasing food production, these vital transport, energy, water and communications industries could be reclaimed and run on a not-for–profit basis, enabling environmental and safety measures to be taken without facing share-holder anger.

There is a precedent: seven years ago Glas Cymru, a ‘not for profit’ company, made a bid for Welsh Water which had been taken over by an American company. It is now an award-winning provider: without the financial burden of shareholder payouts it is able to spend on raising standards and improving equipment, giving the rest of its surplus to customers as a dividend.

At the time Welsh Assembly First Minister Rhodri Morgan welcomed the news of the ‘go-ahead’, saying: "I welcome the prospect of Welsh Water being owned once again by a company based, managed and controlled from Wales”.

When will there be similar moves to reclaim home-owned, well-functioning water, energy, transport and communications systems, backed by not-for–profit health and educational facilities, in this country?

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