Wheeldon should get the Buckles treatment
Just as respectable physicists once believed in the luminiferous ether, the mainstream commentariat has long been bewitched by the notion that public services are better and more efficiently run by organisations energised by the profit motive. A neoliberal article of faith for both main parties in recent years, it was always nonsense; but it provided (and still provides) useful cover for those who wish to encourage the private sector plunder of state assets.
Former prime minister Harold Macmillan, one of that seemingly extinct breed of one-nation Tory, called it ‘selling off the family silver’.
‘We’ve never had it so bad,’ to paraphrase the former PM. But as with the luminiferous ether, only the steady and relentless accretion of evidence has begun to convince the proselytisers that they have been worshipping a false god. So we have seen: water companies that ban hosepipes when we are knee deep in water, because there’s no ‘shareholder value’ in fixing leaks; energy suppliers jacking up prices to record highs amid soaring fuel poverty; and train companies whose fares are among the most expensive in the world, even though they pocket far higher subsidies than did the late - if not greatly lamented - British Rail.
And now - let’s be frank, there’s terrible comedy in it - the darling of the new securocracy, G4S, has to be bailed out by our exhausted and greatly put-upon squaddies to rescue the Olympics. This at a time when the coalition is about to reduce the army’s capacity to its lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars.
The parallels with the courtroom interpreting shambles appear irresistible. Here was a contract let to one of that fast-growing breed of aggressively expanding outsourcers (Applied Language Solutions, subsequently Capita) which has gone badly wrong. It seems the provider couldn’t get enough people to work for it, because the work was fleeting and the pay too low. And the public sector has been left to absorb the costs and muddle on, as of course it must.
What’s worse, even though it’s your money, government is coy about disclosing financial details, citing that weaseling get-out clause ‘commercial confidentiality’. The official enquiry into this sorry mess is long overdue. But written evidence is not enough. As the paper which broke the story, the Gazette would like to see Gavin Wheeldon, late of Applied Language Solutions and Capita, and other parties involved summoned before MPs to explain themselves - just like G4S chief executive Nick Buckles. Nothing less will do.
Paul Rogerson is Gazette editor-in-chief
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