Well it was left to poor old Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, to face the flak on Channel 4 news last night in the absence of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and the emerging electronic tagging scandal.
Inquisitor-in-chief Jon Snow managed to extract from Maude that there was a 'capability gap' within the portals of the Ministry of Justice and Snow certainly voiced the view of us all in probation that neither G4S or Serco should get any more contracts until both companies are shown to be squeaky clean. Maude ducked that question, obviously, but in reality both companies are now completely out of the running for any probation contracts.
Grayling really lost his cool yesterday and somewhat reminiscent of a cornered animal, lashed out, reacting without a great deal of thought. It now looks as if every contract by these two companies, right across all areas of government, will be looked at in minute detail. This not only means share prices will be affected, it's going to make other privateers think twice about the reputational dangers of taking on government contracts that might turn toxic one day.
Of course there are plenty of privateers in the wings, but these were the biggest and I think this whole sorry saga is going to rebound spectacularly by demonstrating that the MoJ is, to quote the nauseating former Home Secretary and current G4S director John Reid, "not fit for purpose".
Apparently, such is the quantity of brown stuff that is contacting the fan down there at MoJ/Noms HQ, that staff were 'crying in the toilets'. As a bit more time has elapsed following Graylings astonishing Commons statement, it's emerged that the fault may indeed lie fairly and squarely with the incompetent MoJ itself.
Thanks to helpful briefings by G4S spin doctors, a picture is emerging whereby it would appear that according to the contracts drawn up by the MoJ, it was their responsibility to notify the tagging contractor when tagging of an individual starts and when it ends. Now I'm no contract lawyer, but that seems reasonable to me. The trouble is it makes a naive assumption that there is a robust and reliable data exchange system in place that ensures that these two bits of straightforward information are communicated to the tagging companies in timely fashion.
Without wishing in any way to prejudge the conclusions of the enquiries just announced, I suspect that G4S and Serco said to themselves something along the lines of 'if the MoJ is too lax to tell us that X and Y are dead or have been returned to jail, we'll stick to the letter of the contract and just keep collecting the fee'. Surely in this instance it's up to the client to know who is being tagged, for how long and therefore how much to pay, rather than the contractor to 'bill' the client? Or is this too simple?
In essence, isn't this the essential difference between a company working to a contract and making money for shareholders, as opposed to a public service with a sound ethical base working for the public good? Doesn't this all very neatly demonstrate why privatising something like the probation service is a very bad idea indeed?
I'm not entirely sure the companies 'over-charged'. I think they just took advantage of the MoJ's inability to keep to their side of the contract and decided not to help them out. It's a commercial arrangement, not a public service any more and the MoJ just isn't up to dealing with such slippery customers in the world of business. Isn't there a universal truth that says 'customer beware'?
Now I stress I'm not a lawyer and I'm only guessing, but I think it's entirely within the realms of possibility that this whole sorry saga will end up reflecting rather more badly upon the hapless MoJ and Chris Grayling than it does on those nasty big private security behemoths.
So, if I'm right, where does this leave the chances of the hapless MoJ making a decent fist of drawing up cast-iron contracts for privatising probation? Err, zilch I'd say.