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THIS government’s obsession with outsourcing public services to the private sector has led to some catastrophic failures in recent years.
Specifically, January marked a year since one of the UK’s largest suppliers to the public sector, Carillion, collapsed, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
Since then, the public have footed the bill for the £148 million spent wrapping up Carillion’s accounts, despite the Tories insisting that “shareholders and not the taxpayer (are) taking the burden on this.”
But it’s not just Carillion.
There has been a string of outsourcing disasters across whole swathes of our public services in recent years, at both a central and local government level, and for too long the public have paid the price for outsourcing.
Recently therefore, as part of our local election campaign, Labour has pledged to end the scandal of outsourcing services involving contact with people “at risk.”
We have outlined new guidelines for central and local government managing contracts for services which come into contact with “at risk” people and exercise coercive state powers.
These kinds of services include assessments for sick and disabled people claiming social security, failures over substandard housing for our armed forces, NHS care, the treatment of people in detention centres and prisons.
Examples of these failures recently in the news have included the outsourcing of assessments for Personal Independent Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA.)
These have led to nearly 300,000 claimants, 6 per cent of all those assessed, only receiving the correct award after challenging the decision; a breakdown in trust among disabled people, many of whom are concerned assessments are not being delivered fairly; and contractors failing to meet any key target on levels of unacceptable reports in any single period, with almost a third of PIP assessments considered not up to scratch.
In another example, Birmingham Prison has recently been taken over by the government from the private firm G4S, after inspectors said it had fallen into a “state of crisis.”
Labour’s plans mean that whenever a relevant contract expires or is terminated, central or local government will be required to assess whether a service involves significant contact with “at risk” groups, exercise of coercive powers, or risks of infringement of people’s rights.
If the answer is “yes,” statutory guidance will be to bring the service back in house except in the cases outlined in detail on our website (https://labour.org.uk/press/labour-pledges-end-scandal-outsourcing-servi...).
Some have falsely claimed that insourcing will be more expensive in response to the announcement, but in fact this doesn’t create costs for councils or departments that wouldn’t otherwise be incurred. When contracts expire, councils or departments already have to decide whether to open up outsourcing contracts for tender or to bring the service in house. Indeed, insourcing has, in many cases, been cheaper than the outsourcing option.
As Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s shadow communities and local government secretary, said when announcing the policy, “Labour is proposing a radical new settlement that gives people the power to end outsourcing and decide for themselves how best to deliver the services they need.”
These latest announcements follow on from how the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party has consistently argued for an end to the Tories’ failed and ideologically driven obsession with outsourcing and privatisation in recent years.
In my work as shadow home secretary for example I have exposed and opposed in recent years how in the area of immigration detention we pay £10 million a year to private contractors to run Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres.
We also had the grotesque spectacle of G4S being rewarded for failure at Brook House and at Tinsley House. A firm which oversaw the appalling, brutal treatment of detainees, and was exposed in the Panorama programme, got more money and a longer contract from the Tories.
In another shocking example of the human misery that can be caused by the Tories’ obsession with outsourcing, it was also revealed that the Home Office paid Capita bonuses for deporting more people, explicitly incentivising Capita to profit from Theresa May’s “deport first ask questions later” approach.
In contrast to the Tories, Labour will end this rotten system. We will take the millions that are used annually to fund Yarl’s Wood and Brook House immigration detention centres, and put this directly back into services to support the survivors of modern slavery, trafficking and domestic violence.
This government and its predecessors have long had an obsession with enriching the private sector from the public purse. This is despite the cost, either financially, in shoddy service or in human misery.
With Labour this will end — as part of us rebuilding and transforming Britain, for the many not the few.
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