Sunday, 21 September 2014

Yet another redundancy and the obsession with privatisation

A friend of mine has just been made redundant. Two years before he could have taken his pension.

He worked for the local Council for many years, but then his department was hived off to the private sector, to an outsourcing company which offered to provide the same service. Two years on, the company has decided to rid itself of most of the staff it took over. So my friend is unemployed, at a time in life when it isn’t always easy to find a job, and his pension isn
’t fully paid up.

You may wonder why I tell this story. It’s far from uncommon. Why focus on one case?

Put it down to the old Stalin principle, that one death is a tragedy, a million a statistic. Talking to a man who’s putting a brave face on misfortune makes the pain far more palpable, far more poignant than just hearing about the tens or hundreds of thousands of others who’ve suffered the same fate.

It’s happening all over the public sector. The NHS, for instance. Government policy is clear: any service that can possibly be put out to tender, must be. It used to be cleaning and catering, but these days it’s diagnostic services, therapeutic services, anything that can be delineated and handed over.

Emblematic of failed privatisaion:
Serco and out-of-hours service in Cornwall
And how well has it worked? It seems to me that the poster boy here is Serco, one of the big boys of the outsourcing business in the UK. It had to cut short its contract to provide out-of-hours healthcare services in Cornwall because it couldn't fix problems that led to a barrage of complaints about quality; it also cancelled its arrangement to provide clinical services to Braintree Community Trust. Then in August it announced it was pulling out of the clinical services market entirely, as it was losing far too much money trying to run them. 

Think about what
’s going on here. The company ran a lousy service that failed to meet patients' needs. But even at that level it couldn’t make the clinical services business pay. Not that such considerations stopped senior executives paying themselves generously: in 2011, the Chief Executive collected £1.86 million and the Finance Director £948,000.

Now that’s healthcare, and my friend was in local government. But the same considerations apply. Private companies don’t have a glowing track record of managing services any more effectively than the public sector; as often as not, it’s because in pursuit of a profit, they cut staff to the lowest levels they can manage, whether or not that allows them to meet requirements.

That thinking’s cost my friend his job.

Poor service. Dissatisfied service users. Employees’ careers destroyed through no fault of their own. And yet, no great profits to delight shareholders. Though wonderful pay to executives to prove they can
’t deliver them.

Those are the results of today’s blind fixation with privatisation in the Western world. Yet the victims are far more numerous than the beneficiaries, and we all have votes. Why do we leave in office the people who pursue this distorted dream instead of showing them the door?

Meanwhile my friend’s out of work and looking for another couple of years to shore up his pension. All I can do is swallow my anger and wish him well. And put out a few feelers to see if anyone I know is recruiting.

Without much hope of success, in this Brave New World that is ConDem Britain.

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