It’s zero stars for the private sector

Just as Community Care this week examines the private
consultancy teams parachuted into zero-star social services
departments, what do we find? That, contrary to government
propaganda, it is not only the public sector that fails to deliver.
Also this week, troubleshooters are moving into Capita, the private
company that has made such a mess of screening teaching staff in
time for the new school year.

Love is blind. But surely now Labour’s infatuation with
public-private partnerships, in which private companies run public
services, and private finance initiatives must be coming to an end.
As the unions have been asking at their conference this week in
Blackpool: why are the profits of private companies spiralling when
customer satisfaction in the many public services to which they are
contracted is often poor? Private hands on public services may have
brought Mr Blair millionaire businessmen as mates, but what’s in it
for the rest of us? And what does it do to the ethos of public

Since 1997, Capita has been awarded a stream of government
contracts. Five years ago, the company’s profits were £18m; by
last December they had risen to £53m. Yet, despite Capita’s
often rotten record, as yet, no zero ratings have appeared on its
report card.

Capita is not alone. Last month, it was revealed that Cambridge
Education Associates, which runs state schools, had failed to meet
targets. Add to that British Energy, the chaos of Railtrack and the
deterioration in working conditions for many who find their jobs
privatised and we end up wondering who benefits.

One of the ironies is that the three elements that contributed to
the public sector’s unsatisfactory performance in the past have
begun to repeat themselves in the PPP experiment –
under-investment; poor management and the laziness that holding a
monopoly can induce.

While such practices go unpenalised in the PPP arena, the public
sector continues to be castigated by politicians. This is despite
huge efforts it has recently made to match the standard of service
that successful profit-driven organisations provide – without the
resources to attract and retain high quality staff.

Blair is wedded to PPP and PFI, if only to prove how far he has
moved from old Labour. A divorce seems unlikely but, if he wants a
welfare state that works well, sooner or later he will have to
realise that, without some drastic adjustments, company profits
will continue to soar while everyone’s quality of life suffers.

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