Thursday, 26 July 2012
The main topic of conversation with my friends this past week has been the G4S fiasco, or meltdown as one candidly put it. Along with other massive global organisations such as Serco, most agreed that outsourcing is privatisation by the back door and none was happy with the concept.
However Martyn Hart disagrees:
Whilst I understand his reasoning - which looks good on paper - the reality is that governments are unable to draw up sensible contracts. Here in Scotland the Edinburgh trams disaster shows clearly that government - although in this case it's local government - is sadly lacking in the quality of employees required to design complex contracts.
Why is this? Why do so many government contracts have multitudes of errors and why can't governments recruit adequately qualified personnel?
I suggest there are highly qualified civil servants capable, if pushed, to undertake water-tight contract compiling, but because their livelihood is seldom, if ever, on the line there's no incentive to 'get it right'. Who accepted the responsibility for the Edinburgh trams mess? Indeed a few did but were rewarded with massive pay-offs.
Outsourcing, in some of Martyn Hart's examples, may work well at times but companies like G4S are not delivering a quality service in many cases.
A few months ago I had a conversation with someone who has experience of G4S. He is ex-military and applied for a senior position in security. He left after two years because the standard of employee he was expected to train was well below his expectations. One comment he made was: "Squaddies are always thought to be thick but in comparison with the people I was expected to train they're really smart."
Businesses which offer outsourcing services require to make profits for their shareholders and how they do that affects the pay and conditions they offer their employees. The security industry, like the catering industry, has always been regarded as a low paid area which doesn't encourage the brightest and the best.
But should G4S take all the responsibility for the Olympics fiasco? No. The Westminster government made big changes to the contract just a few months before the event and - stupidly with a large dose of arrogance - G4S agreed to them. No doubt heads will roll within G4S but will we see any heads rolling out of the hallowed doors of the Home Office? I doubt it.
Billions of pounds of taxpayer's money has been spent on poorly designed outsourcing contracts over the years and gross errors have been kicked into the long grass under the 'lessons learned' mantra.
If one lesson is to be learned from this latest cock-up, it is that civil servants and politicians should be forced to resign their posts if they are found to be lacking the necessary skills. Public servants should be treated the same as any private sector employee and only then will we see a rise in standards in all areas of government, not only those in the Home Office who write contracts.