Public Service or Private Profit?

This week a Panorama documentary exposed unethical practices by private enforcement officers who chase litter droppers. It highlighted the routine outsourcing of government and council duties. Tasks such as medical assessments, running prisons, and providing transport are sold to private companies. Polling shows that only 21% of the public, trust those companies, compared with 65% for the police and 75% for the NHS.  The Serious Fraud Office has open investigations into two of the largest suppliers so it is hard to see them gaining public approval soon. In a time of self-inflicted austerity,  government agencies believes they can save money and by compromising on quality.

Outsourcing relies on claims that a company can provide a service to the same standard as the government, for a lower cost and make a profit.  Such claims are rarely, if ever, upheld. There are 14 private prisons in the UK, holding 15% of the prison population and costing 23% of the prison budget. The government took over the failed East Coast rail line and turned into the most efficient franchise, with 91% customer satisfaction, before selling it to Virgin Trains for £3.3 billion over eight years. Meanwhile rail fares remain the highest in Europe and state operators from European countries buy monopolies to operate on British tracks.

 The public who rely on government services, and fund them through taxation, are not consulted about outsourcing. The decisions are not even taken by majority vote of elected representatives. Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming election we should all be demanding that our representatives consider the folly of outsourcing.

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