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Share your private sector horror stories

Bloated. Inefficient. Wasteful. Pampered. Manned by the lazy and incompetent; administered by shameless fat cats with salaries that make the Prime Minister look like a pauper. All-expenses paid trips to exotic locations. Non-jobs like ‘Executive Officer to Protect Endangered Snakes’. This is Britain’s public sector, if the relentless campaign of bile directed against it by the Conservative Party and their allies in the right-wing media is to be believed. In a political campaign with few parallels in modern times for either genius or audacity, this axis has transformed one of the greatest private sector disasters in human history into a crisis of public spending.

The Government’s propaganda offensive has had one simple aim: to soften public opinion up for the biggest programme of cuts (sorry, ‘savings‘) since the 1920s. Long gone are the days when David Cameron berated New Labour for its “knee-jerk attacks on public sector workers”, or – astonishingly – proudly declared:

Anyone working in the public services could easily have heard a pretty negative message from my Party: “there’s too many of you, you’re lazy and you’re inefficient.” This is far from how I see things.

But trashing the reputation of public services isn’t just about devastating cuts. It’s about opening the door for private firms to help themselves to whatever is left. Already, vultures are circling the expected carcasses. As the Government and its right-wing allies would have it, the private sector is more efficient, more competent and better value-for-money.

On Saturday, Polly Toynbee hinted at challenging this narrative: she referred to the frustrations she’s had with Homebase, and described witnessing a “fraught mother” being treated poorly by HSBC.

So I had an idea. Why not challenge the Government’s propaganda offensive by collecting together the many horror stories involving Britain’s private sector?

I’ll get the ball rolling. The biggy, of course, is the near-collapse of the world’s financial system, caused by the greed and incompetence of the banking industry. The consequences include a narrowly avoided (for now) Great Depression, millions of job losses and questionable prospects for economic growth for years to come. And, of course, it was the state that had to charge to the rescue. Take the United States: George ‘Lenin’ Bush was forced to undertake the biggest nationalisations in human history.

It’s going to take a few more headlines about a council-chief-executive-in-four-course-meal-at-taxpayers-expense to top that one.

Or, on a personal level, I had a weeks-long battle with Optical Express to order in the correct contact lenses. I won’t inflict the details on you – partly because reliving the trauma will end up with my keyboard as collateral damage – but needless to say, after having been their customer since the age of 10, I had no choice but to part company with them and order lenses online. Not that it was the workers’ fault – I’ve always thought there was a special place in Hell reserved for customers who yell at staff who are paid poor wages to administer a crap system devised by overpaid executives higher up the chain.

So – what are your private sector horror stories?


  1. DevonChap says:

    If Homebase treat me badly I can go to B&Q. If HSBC mistreat me I can go to the Co-op Bank. If public services abuse me I have no alternatives. That is the difference.

  2. Vishal says:

    Excellent comment @DevonChap. In the private sector, there are consequences. None in the public sector. My company woke up to the recession 3 years ago, freezing pay, stopping bonuses. Till last years, unions were threatening to go on strike for below inflation pay HIKES! Yes, I think the public sector has it too easy, with no accountability about how it spends taxpayers’ money.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      @DevonChap & @Vishal
      Changing banks is a nightmare. Changing utility companies is a joke. It takes months, by which time the terms have totally changed. And have you ever tried claiming back your fares when Easyjet or Ryan Air cancel the flight? And what about private companies that run public services? No consumer choice there. The train service is worse and more expensive. Things must be better on your planet!

  3. Simon Clarke says:

    Public services should be the responsibility of elected politicians, who if not responsive, can be replaced. I find it difficult to find the difference in service between, say npower and other suppliers, so mostly being able to change to another energy co. or bank is an illusion.

  4. Jon Hudson says:

    And no Freedom of Information applies to private sector therefore no transparency about anything really. They pay big money to PR companies to build their image with spurious ‘good deeds’ ie. Barclays bank send employees to paint the walls of charities that dont need walls painting which costs them pence but reaps mega bucks coverage in a supine media who reproduce press releases without further investigation and any way FOI doesnt apply – oh we have come full circle.


    @DevonChap: Hang on a minute…B&Q? Are you being serious? No staff to help you and when you do manage to speak to one they they cannot answer the most basic query ( because they receive no training and are kept alive on minimum wage rates). Give me an open democratically accountable public service over a faceless corporate tyranny any day.

  6. DevonChap says:

    I travelled a bit in the old communist Eastern Europe and bad British private businesses have nothing on unhelpful and difficult shop staff in state run shops. Supposedly they were “democratically accountable” but that was a joke. Changing banks or ultities because of bad service or high charges wasn’t just difficult, it was impossible.

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