It is not possible to implement the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals without quality public services

SDG Summit: 24-25 September 2019

SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

24 September, New York: “Public infrastructure is the bedrock of our societies: it helps families thrive, and allows communities and businesses to grow”, says David Boys, from global trade union federation Public Services International.

For this reason it is impossible to build a resilient infrastructure, an aspect of SDG 9, without a firm foundation of human rights and universal access to quality public services, says David Boys, writing in Spotlight 2019*, published by the Civil Society Reflection Group, which analyses annual progress on the 17 SDGs.

Under-investment in public services results in lower growth and a rise in right-wing populism, where austerity and cuts in public services contribute to feelings of alienation and an increase in nationalism and xenophobia.

If big business paid their taxes, this would fund public services

“If corporations and the super-rich paid their fair share of taxes, rather than siphoning off this money, there would be enough to fund quality public services, end poverty and achieve the SDGs”, said Boys.

One stated reason for privatising state services is the shortage of public funds, but this has partly been the result of those companies which are now private ‘partners’ in state services stashing away the money they should have paid in tax havens – US$20 trillion is being held offshore.

Many failed privatised services brought back into public ownership – (remunicipalised)

Privatisation (also known as public-private partnerships) has been the Bretton Woods institutions’ official policy since the Thatcher-Reagan years. Multinational corporations have been able to capture monopoly public services as a condition of loans, imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and the regional development banks. This corporate capture has spread beyond governments to include the UN. Companies which provide services and financial and data management expertise are all lining up to profit from public services and public policies.

Despite the well-documented failures of austerity and privatisation in meeting the needs of the poor, the IMF continues to insist that countries cut public services and public spending, says Boys.

The UK has witnessed recent massive failures of privatisation. Global privateer Carillion collapsed in 2018, holding hundreds of privatisation contracts in the UK and overseas, forcing national and local governments to step in to save services and jobs. UK water utilities are well known to overcharge users, using the money to pay hefty profits to their overseas private equity owners, sheltered in tax havens. Rail transport is a mess, requiring billions in public bailouts.

The failures of privatisation are leading governments of all stripes to bring services back under public management, as shown by a report from Transnational Institute where from 2000 to 2017 at least 835 services such as water energy and health care were brought back in 45 countries.

Public services strengthen democracy

An under-appreciated aspect of strong public services is their ability to reinforce the link between people and their communities, says Boys. “When services are in the public domain, people have a closer link to how their money is spent and which services are provided, particularly at local level. Engaging people in democracy is part of the 2030 Agenda’s transformational vision”.

During the week of the UN Summits: 24-27 September, the Reflection Group will be commenting on progress to the SDGs. To find out more, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp (US) +1 917 291 3560 (UK) +447770230251,

To talk to David Boys of Public Service International, please contact: Marcelo Netto,

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