Once upon a time we had nationalised industries; now we have Capita, G4S, Serco, A4E, and the rest of a small coterie of private conglomerates who dominate the service world. Unlike the nationalised industries they have no specialist focus, but merely bid for anything going, much of which they handle poorly or badly as we have seen with G4S over the Olympics, A4E over the Work Programme, and Serco over medical services in Cornwall. But whereas in the public sector such lamentable shortcomings would be taken as a reason for takeover, closing down or enforced amalgamation, these private sector oligarchs are treated with kid gloves. G4S is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over its over-billing the taxpayer by £24m for electronic tagging and prison escort services, but instead of being closed down for embezzlement or being disqualified from future public contracts for dishonesty or its lead executives prosecuted and if guilty jailed, it’ been given a ‘minder’ from business to oversee its behaviour. How courteous. His job is to help G4S satisfy ministers that the company is now fit again to take on more public contracts – a charade worthy of the best business world fix.
The problem for Ministers is that they have set up a tiny clique of out-sized sprawling behemoths who share out the booty between themselves with assured profits at the taxpayers’ expense and virtually no competition – lose one contract within the clique and you get given the next. Of course they will argue that they’re fiercely competitive, just like the banks who copy each other in lockstep, but actually it’s a very cost little club with everything stitched up – government, taxpayers, consumers, and of course huge profits. The problem is when things go wrong, as they have done big time and repeatedly. There’s virtually no alternative but to keep them in place , so instead of being prosecuted for stealing public money and directors jailed, or disqualified from the business or broken up, the government merely grimaces, gives them a slap across the wrist and carries on as before. Of course all this is done in true British Establishment style, with high-sounding ‘crown representatives’ appointed (again from Big Business) to advise the government whether ‘corporate renewal’ has been achieved by the offending firm so that they can be restored to grace. What a farce!
These are public services which have been outsourced, but there is no public accountability. Everything is commercialised, including the oversight. Taxpayers are getting a poor deal because they have to pay for the profit premium and the only reason the companies claim to be efficient in cutting costs is either because they pare back the service provision or they take on more low-paid or agency workers on minimum pay and with little training. This is the market place for the poor and socialism for the big rich companies, and it must be comprehensively dismantled by the incoming Labour government.