Neil Smith, GMB union regional political officer

17 August 2020

Procurement and the Government! You decide!

Privatisation is fast becoming a buzz word for inefficiency and corruption. Many trade unionists and people who deem themselves as socialists or on the left have always believed this. However the Coronavirus pandemic which has such a devastating impact across the world has brought it into the sharp focus of the public eye. Now many supporters and members of the Tory elite see it as the way of life, as part the re-distribution of even more wealth to those that have, at the cost to those who do not have.

The many trade union campaigns against privatisation, particularly during and since the Thatcher years, have shouted loud about why selling off our public transport is wrong. Aided by de-regulation of the buses and trains our methods of getting around the country have been gobbled up by lovely people such as Richard Branson and The Soutar family and we know too well how they became Multi- millionaires. Anyone who travels from one end of the country to the next on a regular basis is only too aware of the shortcomings, with cancellations of trains and buses, running late if at all and the old jokes about British Transport and British Rail appear to be completely off the wall now, with inefficiency taken for granted by Joe and Jessie public.

It has been that bad that we have seen services in some cases taken back into public ownership, even by the Tories.

However the most recent and shocking example of privatisation as an attack on our people and economy is linked to the care services, particularly the NHS and life saving individuals fighting in the front line of this deadly and dangerous pandemic.

It is nothing less than an attack delivered by the ministers of Her Majesty’s government on workers and patients, deemed in rhetoric to be “our heroes”. The lack of preparation by the government is a scandal, specifically around hospital provision, vaccines and PPE. Strategic decisions were either badly flawed or not taken in time and the inconsistencies of information would be laughable if they were not so seriously dangerous for public health. That is all bad enough but salt is rubbed into our wounds when we find out about the public money being dished out to companies for PPE. Money from our coffers. Where are the Taxpayers Alliance when we need them? When someone with their fervour for usually attacking politicians who squander our tax reserves are conspicuous by their absence. Why aren’t they demanding immediate access to their normal platforms on Sky, ITV and BBC news programmes. Why aren’t they shouting about the government commissioning of PPE without due diligence or proper procurement methods in place. In many case PPE that has had be scrapped as it doesn’t meet the requirements to protect NHS workers. In far too many cases from companies who have little or no history of producing quality PPE, in one case a sweetie manufacturer was selected to provide PPE as part of the government clamour for safety gear. This incompetence endangers people’s lives but it is the diversion of these resources to companies who are linked in some way to Tory minsters and MPs. That then becomes not just incompetence or inefficiency but corruption. They now admit to ordering PPE from eleven pest control companies and paying £108m of public money to Crisp Web Sites Ltd. Dawn Butler a GMB sponsored Labour MP described it as “trust damaging with no transparency - everything that is supposed to safeguard against cronyism and corruption has been thrown out of the window by this government”.

The current scandal, and there are many, around the contact tracing contracts is a big one that they should not get away with. 

Demands are now growing for the £10bn funding that has been given to SERCO and SITEL for contact tracing to be diverted to local authorities. There is clear evidence highlighted through SAGE that these companies have failed to deliver more than 55% in their track and trace service. Matthew Brown the  Labour Council Leader for Preston has this week pointed out in a letter to Health Minister Matt Hancock that the locally run service in Blackburn and Darwen has had a 98.3% success rate and it is a no brainer but to hand over the money and resources to local authorities.

On radio 4 last week a Tory Health Minister Edward Argar trying time explain why the government had given big fat contracts to SERCO and others had to admit his last job before becoming an MP was with SERCO. You couldn’t make it up. Privatisation means feeding the fat cats.

Neil Smith 

Political Officer

GMB North West & Irish Region

GMB North West & Irish Region