Private sector companies are now playing a stronger role in crime and law enforcement services, with the news that G4S, Serco and Reliance having won a total of £620m worth of contracts to provide accommodation and transport to asylum seekers for seven years, despite vociferous opposition from local stake holders.
Only last week a “bidders” conference took place for a £1.5bn contract to run policing services in Surrey and the West Midlands. 64 companies, such as Serco, IBM, G4S, Virgin Media and KPMG, and senior officers of more than 20 police and force authorities joined a London conference. Unison and Unite, the two largest public sector trades union, warned that the privatisation of policing services would damage public safety.
Growing private sector involvement in the public sector is a growing "flashpoint" between the government and the trade uniions with the Police Federation which represents 135,000 ordinary "bobbies" and low ranking police officers in England and Wales, said the move to seek full industrial rights showed its members were infuriated by the government's austerity drive.
"Officers genuinely feel what the government is doing is decimating the best of British policing," a Federation spokesman told Reuters. "The victim of that decimation will be the British public."
The £1.5bn contract awarded to the private sector to provide "policing services" entails greater private-sector involvement in criminal investigations, 999 call handling and management of high-risk offenders and detention of suspects. The London Daily News reported last month that seven private companies were also considering running nine prisons, which would be the first step towards a mass privatization of the Prison Service in the country so far.
A spokesman for the Prison Service told The Times: “The public have a right to expect continuing improvement in the quality and efficiency of public services, without compromising public safety. The competition strategy and adjustments to the prison estate will help to ensure that this is the case”.
However, Unison and Unite consider that the mass privatization could undermine public safety if the contract went ahead, 10% of total public funding would be under a private firm, Ben Prieston, of Unison, warns.
The contract, valued in £1.5bn could rise up to £3.5bn if the other 40 bidders forces joined it. That would represent 25% of police funding in private hands. “The public do not want 999 calls answered by someone who works in a remote call centre”, Mr. Prieston said.
Howeve privitisation has received the support of the local constabularies involved, Chris Sims, West Midlands chief constable, stated: “We believe many of the routine and repetitive jobs [carried out] by police officers or staff might potentially be done better or at less cost by the private sector freeing officers to carry out frontline duties”.
Reporting by Paula Planelles Manzanaro
Photo credit: Natalie Mitrides