Privatisation Working Group

Since the early 1990s, privatisation, in its many guises, has become a cornerstone of economic reform strategies across the world. From the UK’s Private Finance Initiative to the sale of water companies in Africa, market-oriented policies have been perceived as the efficient response to the presumed failings of a lumbering public sector. Increasingly, however, serious flaws are perceived to be accompanying the privatisation model, particularly when it comes to the delivery of services which have traditionally been provided by the state such as water, electricity, education and health. Social priorities have been found to conflict with those of private enterprise. Answerable to shareholders, private firms are rarely interested in delivery to those on low incomes who cannot afford to pay. Rather than simply reducing the role of the ineffective state, privatisation has increasingly placed additional and new demands on the public sector, especially in the monitoring of, and remedying of, private-sector performance. While empirical research often finds in favour of the private sector, research methods are typically skewed against the public sector by, for example, using such indicators as profit levels to show that private firms perform better than state-run alternatives. Furthermore there are a growing number of cases of effective state-led service providers, demonstrating that ownership is not the defining determinant of enterprise performance. This Working Group brings together those interested in alternatives to privatisation as the means of improving the provision of basic services. The aim is to provide a forum for discussion and for the pooling of information and research on this theme and related issues such as regulation, competition and social welfare. The Group’s work ranges over the methodological, theoretical and empirical issues involved as well as feeding as actively as possible into those waging campaigns for improved public sector provision as an alternative to privatisation.

Working Group Coordinator


  • Kate Bayliss, Researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Research interests include infrastructure privatisation and alternatives, with particular focus on the delivery of water and sanitation.
  • Brooks Anderson, Communication and documentation specialist for Exnora Green Pammal, a Chennai-based NGO that works to bring solid waste management services in Indian localities into compliance with the government’s regulations.
  • Sávio Cavalcante, PhD Student at University of Campinas (Unicamp), São Paulo, Brazil. Currently, he is doing a research on middles classes in contemporary capitalism. In his Masters, he researched the privatisation of state-owned telecommunications companies in Brazil, and published Sindicalismo e privatização das telecomunicações no Brasil (Unionism and privatisation of telecommunications in Brazil), São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2009. Recently, he has published articles on the Brazilian telecommunications sector and its relation with the interests of classes and class fractions in that country.
  • Daniel Chavez, Fellow at the Transnational Institute, co-ordinating the New TNI Politics Programme, with Hilary Wainwright. He has authored and edited a number of books, including most recently La nueva izquierda en América Latina: sus orígenes y trayectoria futura, with Patrick Barrett and Cesar García (Grupo Editorial Norma, 2005) and The Left in the City: Participatory Local Governments in Latin America with Benjamin Goldfrank (LAB, 2001).
  • Joy Chavez, Research Associate and Philippines Programme Coordinator for Focus on the Global South. She has worked as a researcher, writer and editor with various Philippine-based NGOs, graduate level students, and academics and has written a number of articles and books.
  • Christine Cooper, Professor of Accounting, University of Strathclyde Business School
  • Ben Fine, Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His recent books include: From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory, with Dimitris Milonakis, 2009, London: Routledge; From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries Between Economics and Other Social Sciences, with Dimitris Milonakis, 2009, London: Routledge; Privatisation and Alternative Public Sector Reform, co-edited with Kate Bayliss, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008; The New Development Economics: A Critical Introduction, edited with K. S. Jomo, Delhi: Tulika, and London: Zed Press, 2005.
  • Massimo Florio, Professor of Public Economics and Jean Monnet Chair of Economics of European Integration, University of Milan
  • David Hall, Director, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) at the University of Greenwich, specialising in water, energy and healthcare.
  • Christophe Hermann, Lecturer at the Department of Government and Political Science of Vienna University, Research Fellow, Working Life Research Centre, Vienna.
  • Emanuele Lobina, Research Fellow at Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) at the University of Greenwich, specialising in water. His interests include water pricing and provision to the poor, PPPs and risk management, decision making on water reform and institutional development under public operations.
  • Thomas Marois , Lecturer in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He teaches on the Political Economy of Finance, Debt, and Development and contributes to lectures on globalization, neoliberalism, capital flows, and privatization. Thomas has published articles critical of neoliberalism in Historical Materialism and the Canadian Journal of Political Science. He is currently working a book-length manuscript addressing problems bank ownership, crisis, and finance-led neoliberal strategies of development in Mexico and Turkey.
  • David McDonald, Associate Professor and Director, Department of Global Development Studies. Co-Director of Municipal Services Project.
  • Margaret McKenzie , Lecturer in Economics, School of Accounting Economics and Finance, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia. Dr McKenzie has worked at other universities in Australia and the UK and as a public servant for the Australian government, including industry analyst at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Her research interests include the quantitative evaluation of macroeconomic and industry performance relating to privatisation, ownership and regulation. Recent work is investigating sovereign wealth funds.
  • Luis Ortiz Hernández, Departamento de Atención a la Salud, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana – Xochimilco, Mexico.
  • Greg Ruiters, Professor of Political Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa. Co-Director of the Municipal Services Project.
  • Lotta Takala-Greenish, PhD Candidate at SOAS, researching the role of the minerals-energy-complex and industrial policy in the decline of South African textiles and clothing. Her research interests include industrialisation, privatisation, trade theory and policy, labour economics, and technology transfer with an area focus on Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Jeff Tan, Jeff Tan is Assistant Professor at the Aga Khan University-Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC). His research interests include the privatisation of public utilities and infrastructure, focussing mainly on Malaysia.
  • Radha Upadhyaya, PhD Candidate at SOAS. Her research interests include competition, corporate governance and regulation of banks and bank failures with a specific focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Her thesis attempts to trace the evolution of banking industry in Kenya to understand the sources of shallowness and fragility. Prior to starting the PhD, Radha was a director of a small bank – Bullion Bank and also the director of a think tank – the Institute of Economic Affairs, both based in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Hilary Wainwright, Research Director of the New Politics Programme at the Transnational Institute and editor of British new left magazine Red Pepper.
  • Edlira Xhafa, PhD student, Department of Labour and Welfare Studies, Graduate Studies in Social, Economic and Political Sciences, University of Milan, Italy. Research areas include Health and PPPs in Education


  • The Africa Water Network (AWN) is a collective of water workers and activists in Africa working towards achieving unfettered access to water for all through active campaigns against policies which are harmful to the marginalised in society.
  • Focus on the Global South (Focus) is a non-governmental organisation with twenty staff working in Thailand, the Philippines and India. Focus was established in Bangkok in 1995 and is affiliated with the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute. Focus combines policy research, advocacy, activism and grassroots capacity building in order to generate critical analysis and encourage debates on national and international policies related to corporate-led globalisation, neo-liberalism and militarisation. Focus’s overall goals are to: dismantle oppressive economic and political structures and institutions; to create liberating structures and institutions; to promote demilitarisation and peace-building, instead of conflict. These three goals are brought together in the paradigm of deglobalisation. This term describes the transformation of the global economy from one centred around the needs of transnational corporations to one that focuses on the needs of people, communities and nations and in which the capacities of local and national economies are strengthened.
  • Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt, Wien – Working Life Research Centre, Vienna (FORBA) is an independent European research institute specialising in social-science research on work and employment.
  • The Municipal Services Project (MSP) Established in January 2000, this is a long-running research programme investigating the effects of policies of commercialisation and privatisation on the delivery of basic services. The initial focus was on Southern Africa but the scope of the project is now global. The latest phase of the project centers on exploring successful alternatives to the privatisation model in the provision of water and sanitation, health and electricity. Funded by Canadian donors, IDRC, the project is managed by Queens University (Canada) and Rhodes University (South Africa).
  • Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) carries out research into the privatisation and restructuring of public services around the world, with special focus on water, energy, waste management, and healthcare. PSIRU produces regular reports and maintains an extensive database on the multinational companies involved. The core database is financed by Public Services International (PSI), the global confederation of public service trade unions.
  • The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international network of activist-scholars committed to critical analyses of the global problems of today and tomorrow, with a view to providing intellectual support to those movements concerned to steer the world in a democratic, equitable and environmentally sustainable direction. In the spirit of public scholarship, and aligned to no political party, TNI seeks to create and promote international co-operation in analysing and finding possible solutions to such global problems as militarism and conflict, poverty and marginalisation, social injustice and environmental degradation.
  • In 2010 the EU earmarked €40 million of the ACP-EU Water Facility to support water partnership projects. These are not-for-profit partnerships intended to: “develop capacity in the ACP water & sanitation sector, leading to better water and sanitation governance and management, and to the sustainable development and maintenance of infrastructure”. The European Commission is awarding grants to partnerships in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries selected through a restricted call procedure. ACP-EU water partnerships must last for a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 5 years. Each grant awarded to a partnership must be between a minimum of €250,000 and a maximum of €1,000,000. Please note that the deadline for the submission of concept notes (4 pages maximum) is 6th October 2010.

Related Publications


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