Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Public Sector Good, Private Sector Bad

So, according to David Skelton of Policy Exchange and writing in today's Guardian, 'public sector good, private sector bad' is a lazy mantra and needs to be replaced with 'competition and localism good, monopoly bad'. He is writing about electronic tagging and making the point that the current monopoly of three private providers is delivering a crap and expensive product, in stark contrast to provision in the United States.

Chris Miller, former Assistant Chief Constable who used to speak for the police on tagging matters seems to agree:-

"What we have been given instead is a sclerotic, centrally controlled, top-down system that has enriched two or three large suppliers, that lacks the innovation and flexibility of international comparators, and that fails to demonstrate either that it is value for money or that it does anything to reduce offending."

Actually I'd go a bit further and say that the present system isn't working at all in that the contractors fail on a regular basis to prosecute breaches. Casual conversations with people tagged as a condition of bail routinely confirm the suspicion held by the police that breaches go unreported. The reason is quite straightforward and it is all to do with money. It costs a contractor a considerable amount to send a representative to court each time, so they often don't bother.

The Guardian 'Comment is Free' article is based on a report 'The Future of Corrections' by the Policy Exchange think tank and in advance of the tagging contracts for England and Wales coming up for renewal next year. G4S was no doubt relieved to have recently won the £13.5 million contract for Scotland and in spite of the huge Olympic contract debacle.     

I love the argument in this report that better value for money could be obtained if tagging services were commissioned locally, 'according to local need' and with supervision handed over to probation. Yes, that's because probation already bear the cost burden of prosecuting breaches when tagging forms part of a community order. I bet contractors would love to just hand over responsibility for all breaches to the public sector, while they pick up the fee.

And what's this nonsense about competition and locally commissioned services?  

"Without our proposed injection and localism, tagging will, for another decade, fail to fulfill its potential to tackle crime and rehabilitate criminals." 

For a graphic example of what can happen with 'local' commissioning, take a look at equipment procurement in the education sector and highlighted in last night's BBC tv Panorama programme. It's utterly shocking to see where government policy on devolving decision making can lead us because schools aren't businesses. 

Oh, and since when was tagging about rehabilitation? How exactly does a tag work its magic on an offender? It's about punishment and restriction of liberty, end of! 

Naturally that cheer leader for private enterprise the CBI are determined to champion the cause for public sector breakup and have also published a report claiming a £22billion saving if more public services are privatised. Whatever, I'm clear that there's ample evidence to support that lazy mantra 'Public sector good, private sector bad.'


  1. "Oh, and since when was tagging about rehabilitation? How exactly does a tag work its magic on an offender? It's about punishment and restriction of liberty, end of! "

    Precisely......It can sometimes be quite satisfying to see an offender vent his/her anger when such a sentence is imposed. It signifies that s/he has been hit where it hurts and might take the consequences into account next time illegal activity is being considered. Being able to impose curfew without a PSR is also useful on occasion.

  2. To be an effective punishment and restriction of liberty, we have to be confident that any infringements are duly dealt with. My information leads me to believe that they are not. However, when imposed as part of a broader community order with breaches prosecuted by probation, amazingly infringements seem to be actioned speedily.

  3. Christmas is coming. Tagging really hurts around this time of year and is ideal as a straight-forward punishement.

    Good post Jim.