The most terrible power the state can wield is to take children away from their parents for ever. The idea that companies such as
In writing commercial contracts there can only be perverse financial incentives either to take more or fewer children into care. Last week I reported on a private equity company promising an 18% return on investment in children's care homes, the sales representative relishing how the "naughtier children pay more". Everything can be monetised, even acute distress. But this one is the ultimate test: if
This government's privatisation revolution is accelerating at breakneck speed. In just the first three months of this year, the value of public-sector outsourcing has shot up by 168%, as monitored by the specialist Arvato's outsourcing index. A quarter of these contracts went to offshore companies - state funds flying abroad, of no benefit to
From 1 June the probation service will be abolished and parcelled into 21 community rehabilitation companies to be sold off to private businesses, partnered by fig-leaf voluntary groups. But today the parliamentary public accounts committee flashes a red-light warning.
Backed by the full weight of a government majority on her committee, her excoriation of the plan is formidable. "High-profile failures" of MoJ electronic tagging and court interpreter contracts "give rise to particular concern", Hodge says, noting that there are no contingency plans for failure. The committee says that "this complex, untested" system of payment by results and fee for service needs more transparency to stop "contractors gaming the system, as has happened in the past".
The committee expresses profound scepticism that privatisation will yield such savings that within its existing pounds 835m budget, companies will be able to treat an additional 50,000 offenders released from short sentences.
The month when a man nicknamed Skullcracker and two other murderers went on the run from prison is a moment to consider that probation is a serious matter. Utility firms cheating their customers is a disgrace, but if commercial probation services cut corners for profit by monitoring offenders less intensively, that would be a public danger.
Only ideology drives this privatisation, as the committee points out that all 35 existing probation services to be abolished are rated "good" or "exceptional". If serious crimes committed by offenders while on probation rise, this will be embarrassingly newsworthy. Just consider the multiple privatisation failures so far:
Another Work Programme contract crashed last week when
But bad contracts for complex services are endemic, and not a Tory preserve. Plenty of privatisations failed under Labour - the worst being
The public account committee's report has a weary, seen-it-all-before tone about privatisation failings. Contracts, they say, "have been too large and too complex". Experts in contract writing are being rushed in by the MoJ to negotiate the probation contracts, shoring up a depleted civil service that is usually outsmarted by the private sector.
The committee warns that "Large companies such as
The government is deaf to warnings, as Cameron,
The pace of this outsourcing revolution is set by the fear of being a one-term administration. As
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