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Everything you need to know about Privatisation

Privatisation is not just a whim of this or the last labour Government, it is an essential element in institutionalising the neo-liberal state. We provide an analysis of some of the key ideas behind the drive to end public services as we know it.

A privatised service is an unaccountable service

There is so much wrong with privatisation and outsourcing it's hard to know where to begin. It's bad for the workforce, it's bad for the tax payer and it's bad for the end user of services, that's all of us!

One of the most invidious and iniquitous things is the almost total lack of accountability that results from it. In theory, and only in theory, those who 'procure' or 'commission' services are supposed to remain accountable for them and to consult end users of services about what those services should deliver.

When was the last time you recall being consulted about how a service should look?

In practice there is little or no accountability. Those who do the procuring/commissioning rarely have either the capacity i.e. enough competent, qualified and experienced staff to monitor contractors performance. They know it and the contractors know it. It's a structural flaw in the process.

Many contractors delivering public services are big businesses with no local focus or commitment. In fact despite half-hearted efforts to incliude small businesses, charities etc. big business still dominates and excludes but there is a worrying tendency for them to exploit the 'Third Sector'.

Big business has the resources to deal easily with any criticism about their behaviour or performance. For them it's 'win win'. They can fail time and again to deliver but still be invited to take on other work.

True, their are 'penalty clauses' in contracts but they are rarely invoked and the fact that they exist is no consolation to us as end users, who have to endure poor service and whose ability to get a resolution to complaints is limited. How very different this is when the service is in house! Direct Labour means direct control and direct accountability.

Once a service is privatised then it is effectively handed over lock, stock and barrel to a private company that hides behind contract law making it difficult to sanction or even influence. One only has to look at the mess the DWP has made with ATOS and now Capita to see how even a large government department with huge resources is effectively held hostage by a provider who is 'too big to fail'. The same pattern is repeated across the whole country, in the NHS and in local authorities.

The truth of the matter is that even if there was no other cost of privatisation the fact that local authorities do not have the capacity to effectively manage the huge number of contracts they seem addicted to letting, even when they don't have to, means that the service suffers. Instead of keeping or taking services back in house where Councillors are directly accountable for their performance and therefore to us, in practice a privatised service is accountable to no one, not even it's own shareholders.

Where there is no accountability but lots of money, the temptation for cronyism, corruption and arrogance is frequently too much for management to resist and most do not make that much effort to do so.

For local authorities to continue with privatisation is a sign of failure and a lack of imagination. It shows a lack of concern for users of the service and is an attempt to abdicate responsibility: everything becomes the 'contractors fault', 'nothing can be done'. The truth is that the 'fault' lies with those who chose privatisation rather than public service and that there is a great deal that can be done where there is the political will to do it.

© 2018 Unite for Public Services • The views on this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Unite the Union