Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scandalous Sell-Off That Still Blights Our Services

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scandalous Sell-Off That Still Blights Our Services

Article excerpt

Byline: MARTIN BENTHAM

SHADOW STATE: INSIDE THE SECRET COMPANIES THAT RUN BRITAIN by Alan White (Oneworld, PS14.99) MARTIN BENTHAM THE "truth", according to this powerful account of the impact of the privatisation of public services in this country, is that "Britain has been hijacked by a group of companies that don't offer the value they say they do".

Worse still, says its author Alan White, the firms involved in such "outsourcing" are "given an easy ride" because of generous contracts and poor government oversight of their performance, creating a "broken market" in which the taxpayer too often picks up the tab for failure. The individual victims, he argues, range from disabled welfare claimants and asylum seekers to old people in care homes and young offenders detained in privatised secure training centres.

The evidence of outsourcing failure cited by White, a journalist who has reported on the PS80 billion a year industry for many years, is extensive and includes examples such as the G4S Olympic security guard fiasco and the death of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained on a deportation flight by staff from the same company.

Other cases added to his charge sheet include the mistreatment of women in the Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre, run by Serco; the chaotic outsourcing of court translation services; and failed "payment by results" schemes with the unemployed and offenders on probation.

All of this and more is lucidly set out by White and provides much ammunition to sustain his central thesis that the vogue for using private firms to provide state services is based on a misguided faith in their ability to provide cheaper and better performance. He argues, in particular, with some justification, that while the focus of government tends to be on the short-term savings that outsourcing can bring, the longterm cost is frequently much greater and that it is also often "near impossible" to measure the quality of privatised services, especially when they cater for people with "complex human problems". …

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