The abhorrent scandal of private firms abusing the power they were given by successive governments in controlling public services, from justice to welfare and health to defence, has once again been brought under public scrutiny as G4S and Serco were caught out in the great tagging scam. It was discovered that successive governments charged for criminal tagging by the companies were conned through a deceptive and reprehensible system where convicted criminals who were ineligible, because they were already either in jail or died, appeared on their records and we had to pick up the tab for it.
This has apparently been going on for at least fourteen years – when tagging began in England and Wales – and the estimated taxpayer cost of monitoring offenders has ballooned to £1bn since 1999. Incompetence on the part of an unaccountable raft of contractors may be partly to blame but the people who are in power must be held responsible for their actions too. Their efforts have led to contracts worth billions, so their corporate pals can fill their boots while demolishing public services. Firms like Capita, Atos and Circle receive roughly 6% of GDP and employ 1.2 million but their monopoly is accompanied by the rise of zero-hour contracts, low pay for most and crude attacks on conditions.
This lusty pursuit of profit is bad news for service users too. Cornwall’s out-of-hours GP service abandons one in five of its calls under Serco rule, the whole Olympics security shambles by G4S is still fresh in our minds, and Atos could soon be stripped of their contract over the chaos of benefit assessments. The list keeps growing and it’s clear that if we are to avoid future mishaps, public services must return to democratically run control. Political responses extend only to limp demands for an inquiry to give the impression that action will be taken against the tagging tyrants, but G4S is refusing to be investigated and it’s highly unlikely that any bosses will be charged with fraud. The deplorable scandal must now be met with calls to end the privatisation of public service, and organising for a real alternative to this neoliberal dogma.