Outsourcing is a word that would have had us scratching our heads twenty years ago. Privatisation was easy to understand. It happened in the full glare of publicity. It introduced vast numbers to the concept that stocks can fall in value as well as rise. Its principle was crystal clear and although the Major government made such a cock up of dismantling British Rail, an abysmal mess for which we are still picking up the pieces, it is impossible to see the process going into reverse.
Outsourcing or the purchase of goods or services from an outside source, has been around surreptitiously since for ever but only in the last twenty years or so has it figured so largely in the running of so many services used by so many people.
Perhaps the most widely recognised of the consortia used by government is Capita plc. This grouping was founded thirty years ago and is perhaps most well known for its license to act for the BBC in ensuring that all those liable to pay the T.V. license fee (and many who are not) pay up. It took over this activity in 2002 from the Post Office. This contract was renewed six months ago for a further period of eight years. Capita plc has grown into an avaricious monster from humble beginnings. It is directly responsible for the appalling break down in the supply of court interpreters. Exactly a year ago a small company, Applied Language Solutions, won a contract from Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunals Service to supply interpreters. The whole pre contract investigative procedure was flawed. The actions of those civil servants charged with using our tax monies in the wisest possible way were torn to shreds by Margaret Hodges M.P. and her Parliamentary Select Committee. The facts behind the company`s acquisition by Capita plc so shortly after the award of the contract might or might not be interesting. Even one year on courts` interpreter services are still failing. It is no wonder that inputting “court interpreters” or “language services” into Capita plc search box produces no results. The conclusion is that this company keeps its government contracts close to its (treasure) chest. Indeed last September another government contract was awarded to Capita plc. This was to work on behalf of the U.K. Border Agency, another government arms length operation, which has been publicly acknowledged as totally inefficient. It seems that this contract is also going awry.
After inter alia the G4S fiasco at the Olympic Games one would have thought that the apparent mystical belief in private enterprise`s ability to carry out government projects with some super efficient formula AKA “pay by results” would have at least been slightly tarnished……..but one would have been mistaken. It is almost an obsession. After private prisons the government has now put its faith in the private sector`s confidence that it can do a better job of rehabilitating ex cons than the probation service.
There is no doubt that eg telecoms services have thrived since the nationalised telephone service was abandoned but unlike health provision or even welfare services a justice system and its many integrated parts is IMHO best operated by the state and its directly employed work force. What has been woeful has been the management of these services from Whitehall to the local probation office.