12th March 2017
The year is 1992. The great energy privatisation approaches. Like his predecessor, newly-installed Prime Minister John Major has reassured us that competition between newly-privatised electricity companies is a great idea, as it will ‘drive down prices for customers’.
I’m working at MANWEB – the soon-to-be-defunct Merseyside And North Wales Electricity Board. And I know he’s talking bollocks.
MANWEB’s Chief Executive is Chester-based John Roberts, later bestowed with Deputy Sheriff of Merseyside for his services to business in the region. He’s probably also aware that John Major, like Margaret Thatcher before him, is giving this the hard sell, and the real reasons for doing it are:
a. Tory ideology
b. The chance to enrich their friends and controllers in the City of London
c. The opportunity, upon retirement, to proceed through a revolving door and into a top job
And if he, as CEO, welcomed it with open arms, or just sat there mute and twiddled his thumbs, he stood to gain a lot of money. As did any employee who had a few spare quid lying around, was given the opportunity to buy MANWEB shares when they became available… and then sold them, possibly doubling or trebling their investment !
So the more money you had, the more you put in, the more you stood to gain
It’s how the Chelsea FC owner made his money, and secured his freedom.
Whereas me, I’m opposed in principle to the idea of privatisation. I’m thinking, what? This is just naked greed, there’s absolutely nothing in it for customers, employees’ terms and conditions will be threatened, trampled; pensions will be eroded, and we’ll all be sold a lie and ripped off !
I’m based at the Prenton, Wirral depot, working as a cable jointer, one of the men who connects your house / the lamppost outside your house / your business premises to the lecky mains. I work hard, I get dirty, I get drunk of a night (after a shower of course).
And I’m really enjoying my job serving in the public sector and have done for the last 8 years, since I followed my dad in and started as a labourer in the Aintree, Bridle Road depot, after leaving the Royal Navy in 1983.
It’s hard work, but it’s honest work. The streets are my ‘office’ and in my case, the clichè about every day being different is true.
Anyway, I see what’s planned for my industry, and decide that electricity privatisation is not for me. I’m young enough to go for a change of career, retrain, and I apply for voluntary redundancy, which came around in 1995. £18,000 was my 30 pieces of silver.
My foreman Bob Wales comes up to me one day in 1993, “Paul, I’ve seen you doing the Guardian crossword in the back of the van. Is it true you can finish it in half an hour?”
“No, who told you that Bob? That’s crap. 20 minutes is me best.”
Says Bob, “Sharon in the office has been trying to get someone to set one for the North Wirral Monthly magazine”.
And so, I’m setting crosswords for the North Wirral Monthly every month, at home, unpaid, just for the sheer, unbridled thrill of it. Bob is chuffed. Sharon in the office is delighted.
As privatisation approaches I hatch a plot. I want to make my mark against the Tory government and this decision to sell off another of our public services – okay, in a very, very, very small way.
Before the interplanetary event, Patrick Moore once described the collision of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet with Jupiter as “trying to bring down a charging rhino with a peashooter”.
This was my pathetic equivalent, before leaving to try something else. I don’t tell anybody about this, not my foreman, Bob, not Sharon in the office, not even my work buddies…
Here it is:
I’ve no idea whether any of the bosses or anybody in the office spotted it to this day. Futile wasn’t it? lol…