In our first Britain for sale we featured a government committed to selling even more of the country’s infrastructure – where water and energy companies are largely in foreign hands and health increasingly so.
It is good to see Sarah Neville, public policy editor of the Financial Times, in ‘Outsourcing the state’ warning of ‘the political perils of tinkering with the welfare state’.
Law and order outsourcing – a lucrative “Police privatisation” deal
She adds news of a lucrative “Police privatisation” deal exciting a ‘crowd of corporate hopefuls’ – ironically in premises hired at the TUC headquarters – ‘pitching’ to Surrey and West Midlands police for a £1.5bn, seven-year contract to undertake operational police duties such as investigating crimes, detaining suspects and, according to the Guardian, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, patrolling neighbourhoods, managing intelligence, managing engagement with the public, as well as more traditional back-office functions, such as managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources.
Ms Neville remembers some of the political and operational perils of private sector involvement:
- A high-profile programme to move people off benefits and into work has been tarnished by allegations of fraud against a handful of former employees of one of the main providers.
- Group 4, a security provider (now G4S and assisting Lincolnshire police), became the butt of jokes when prisoners escaped just days after it was handed a prison escort contract in the 1990s.
- The “private finance initiative”, which was designed to shift to the private sector the burden of risk in constructing and maintaining large infrastructure projects such as schools and hospitals, spawned a host of stories about the way companies were enriching themselves at taxpayers’ expense.
- A4e, a training company, is under investigation, following a number of allegations of fraud.
No political party in Germany would call for such a policy
From this month, 14 out of the 134 prisons in England and Wales will be under private control, with nine more tenders due later in the year. The probation service is also being opened to competition, creating a market with an estimated annual worth of £820m.
Bernhard Frevel, a criminal justice expert at the University of Applied Science of Public Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia, says that no political party in Germany would call for such a policy, and the minister of the interior and the minister of finance would not survive if they suggested following the UK in this respect.”
NHS outsourcing – the most politically sensitive
Plans to open the NHS to “any willing provider” were watered down after members of the Lib Dems argued it paved the way for privatisation. The vocal opposition of many health professionals, has warned the coalition about the limits of public acceptability for all public service outsourcing.
However in February Circle Health became the first private company to run a general hospital, although staff and assets remain within the NHS.