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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The return to private control of enterprises previously run by the public sector. In the 1980s the USA and Britain were in the forefront in this policy; it was associated personally with President Reagan and Mrs *Thatcher. By the early 1990s it had been taken further in Britain than anywhere else. But the signs are that it will prevail widely, in view of the increasing dislike of state intervention both in capitalist countries and in regions emerging from Communism.

Privatization in Britain began with the government selling its stake in quoted companies; 80 million of the nation's *BP shares were on the market within six months of Mrs Thatcher's first victory in 1979. The next stage was the sale of fully *nationalized enterprises. Some, such as British Aerospace or Cable and Wireless, were floated in the normal way on the Stock Exchange. With others, of which British Telecom was the first in 1984, a major effort was made to attract members of the public who would not normally buy shares; an elaborate advertising campaign resulted in the £3.9bn issue of BT shares being four times oversubscribed.

There was a similar response to the issues of TSB and British Gas in 1986, but the sale of the nation's ten water companies in 1989 and of the electricity industry in 1991 was less easy. Nevertheless there was a major financial incentive underpinning the ideology of privatization; by the mid-1990s the Treasury had received about £60bn from this unrepeatable source of funds, helping to reduce each year's Public Sector Borrowing Requirement.

Meanwhile some critics argued that the nation's assets were being sold off too cheaply; the transfer of the Rover Group to British Aerospace was a much quoted example. Others had a more rooted objection to this disposal of capital wealth, which Harold Macmillan likened in November 1985 to selling the family silver: 'First of all the Georgian silver goes, and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon. Then the Canalettos go.'

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