In the town centre of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, between McDonald’s and Carphone Warehouse, there is an unusual statue. Four firm-jawed figures in factory clothes stand back-to-back. One wears a flat cap, one wields a sledgehammer, one has a welder’s visor. All of them are in purposeful poses, idealised workers cast in bronze. Around the statue base run the words “labour”, “courage” and “progress”. Its structure feels like something from the Soviet Union in the 30s.
But the statue is British and only eight years old. Its subject and design, slightly startling in a country that stopped celebrating most factory workers decades ago, is explained by a small plaque. Part of the statue was “donated by BAE Systems Submarines”.
Barrow is a defence industry town. It builds Britain’s nuclear submarines. And in defence the way of doing things – culturally, economically, politically – is different from other British industries. In defence, manufacturing jobs still have prestige, long-term prospects and political leverage. Unions are strong, but work closely with management. Apprenticeships are sought-after and numerous. Political support for the business comes from across the ideological spectrum: when the European Fighter Aircraft collaboration between Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, now known as theTyphoon, was threatened with cancellation in the 90s, even the Socialist Workers party protested (“No Closures. No job losses. Stuff the Tories.”) This week, David Cameron’s much-hyped trade visit to India is promoting the Typhoon as one of its key objectives.
Robin Cook, the late Labour minister, a rare defence industry critic in Westminster, wrote in his 2004 diaries that the then chairman of BAE, Dick Evans, seemed to have “the key to the garden door of No 10″. Roger Johnston, a defence analyst at Edison Investment Research, says: “As an industry, it is reasonably unique in how it’s viewed within government.”
In this business, in defiance of the past three decades’ free-market orthodoxies, the state is pivotal. Accompanying Cameron in India are representatives of a dozen British or partly British-based companies – the industry is clever at blurring such definitions – with defence interests: Rolls-Royce, Serco, BAE, EADS, Thales, Atkins, Cobham, JCB, Strongfield Technologies, MBDA, Ultra Electronics.
The British state is also the industry’s biggest customer, with our armed forces accounting for four-fifths of its annual sales; the provider of an “export support team”, including “serving British army personnel”; the provider of export insurance, for a fee, in case foreign customers fail to pay for products. Above all, the state is the provider of the wars that act as the industry’s best showcase.
“The Typhoon fighter jet performed outstandingly in Libya,” said Cameron in December, before an official visit to the Middle East. “So it’s no surprise that Oman want to add this aircraft to their fleet.” On landing in the wealthy Gulf state, he strode quickly from his prime ministerial plane, in front of the TV cameras, to where a pair of dart-like Typhoons had been specially parked in the perfect, sales-catalogue sunshine, barely a hundred yards away. He climbed a set of steps to the open cockpit of one of the fighters, and held a stagey conversation with its pilot. That day, it was confirmed that Oman had bought a dozen of the aircraft.
“Boosting exports is vital for economic growth, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to promote British business … so [it] can thrive in the global race,” said Cameron on the eve of his Oman trip. “Every country in the world has a right to self-defence, and I’m determined to put Britain’s first-class defence industry at the forefront of this market, supporting 300,000 jobs across the country.”
Despite leading an overcommitted, often embattled government, he has frequently found time for foreign visits with a defence exports element. He has been to India before, in July 2010; Egypt and Kuwait in February 2011; Saudi Arabia in January 2012; Indonesia, Japan, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore in April 2012; Brazil in September 2012; and Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in November 2012. Throughout, his salesmanship and justifying rhetoric have been strikingly unashamed.
“The PM has done a fantastic job,” says Howard Wheeldon, director of policy for ADS, a defence trade body. “He has picked up the value of defence to the national economy. Other PMs haven’t, necessarily. Mrs T was very supportive of defence exports … Brown wasn’t, but Blair was …”
(Via The Independent):
More than half of the Government’s contract spending on detention services went to just two firms, G4S and Serco, a report reveals today.
G4S was this month stripped of a key prison contract in the wake of its shambolic handling of Olympic security but the report reveals it won contracts for a third of spending on detention, surveillance, prisoner escort and deportation.
The report, by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, shows that out of £745m spent on contractors by the UK Border Agency and the National Offender Management Service between May 2010 and April 2011, G4S received £229m while £154m – one fifth – went to Serco.
Richard Garside, one of the report’s authors, said: “For… two very large companies [to] hold more than half the contracts doesn’t strike us as a particularly promising way of diversifying the market place.” He said it was against the public interest to have a near-monopoly on “very lucrative contracts which are shrouded in commercial confidentiality”.
Shadow Justice secretary Sadiq Khan said it emphasised the need for extending Freedom of Information so there was greater transparency.
Justice minister Jeremy Wright said new organisations were now competing in the market, adding: “Through competition we have secured significant cost reduction.”
G4S declined to comment but said the contracts were awarded only after a comprehensive and transparent procurement process.
Serco said: “All our contracts have been awarded following competitions designed to deliver value for the customer.”
Interesting development in Britain (via the Guardian) that shows deep concern with the companies both major sides of politics increasingly believe should run the country:
Home Office ministers have ordered weekly reports on the progress of two new contracts with the private security companies G4S and Serco to house and provide support services for thousands of asylum seekers and their families.
The chief executive of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), Rob Whiteman, has confirmed that serious concerns about the ability of the two companies to find housing for thousands of asylum seekers across the north of England by November has led to closer monitoring at the most senior levels of the Home Office.
The £883m a year Compass contract to provide support services for dispersed asylum seekers is the largest project run by the Home Office. The two private security companies took over the five-year asylum housing contracts in four of the six UKBA regions across Britain from social landlords, including councils, in March.
The companies were expected to start moving people in June. But after a contractual dispute G4S dropped its housing subcontractor for the Yorkshire and Humberside region, United Property Management, in June and its new subcontractors have yet to find enough homes.
Two councils, Sheffield and Kirklees, have raised concerns about their ability to deliver the housing contract within the expected timetable. Kirklees council said that a fortnight ago, only one family out of 240 asylum seekers had been moved as part of the transition from the council to the new providers.
“There are 240 asylum seekers being assisted. We understand the subcontractors are finding it difficult to procure accommodation and the council has been asked to continue to provide assistance until the end of October. There is no suggestion however that the council’s contract will be renewed after this time.”
Shameful (via Paige Taylor in The Australian):
It will cost about $29 million over the next 20 months for independent observers to watch over young, unaccompanied asylum-seekers in Australia’s immigration detention camps.
The figure is the nominal amount of a new contract between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the US-linked Maximus Solutions to provide “care and support” to teenage asylum-seekers who arrive by boat without a parent or a guardian.
There are currently 168 such teens, mostly boys, living under guard in “alternative places of detention” at Darwin airport, on Christmas Island and at a camp in the West Australian northern goldfields town of Leonora.
In the costly context of Australia’s immigration detention network, the department finds the $29m contract represents good value.
It is a tiny sliver of the size of the five-year contract between the Immigration Department and Serco for the management of Australia’s immigration detention centres on Christmas Island and the mainland; in July last year, that agreement, due to expire in 2014, was valued at $1,032,827,276.
The contract is one of the measures the federal government has in place to meet its obligations towards unaccompanied minors.
“As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Australian government takes its obligations towards unaccompanied minors very seriously,” the Immigration Department states on its website.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is the legal guardian of all unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Australia; as of last Friday, there were a total of 310 — almost half, 142, had been placed in community housing under the care of the Red Cross while the rest were still in detention. “The contract is for care and support services to unaccompanied minors in the detention network,” a spokesman for the department said yesterday.
“It is also for ‘independent observer’ services on Christmas Island and in mainland Australia.”
Since 2009, the contract has been held by Australian not-for-profit organisation Life Without Barriers.
A leading private health company, poised to win much of the new wave of NHSoutsourcing contracts, is under investigation for allegedly providing an “unsafe” out-of-hours GP service, and over claims that it manipulated results where it failed to meet targets.
Serco, which runs a large range of outsourced services for the government and local authorities, was subject to an unannounced inspection by NHS watchdogs in Cornwall last month in response to whistleblowers who claim that it:
• allowed queues of up to 90 patients at a time to build up at its telephone helpline;
• met its targets, in part, by adjusting figures to blame delays on patients;
• rang at least one patient who had waited too long to see a doctor to give them a new waiting target instead;
• repeatedly took visiting doctors off roving duties in order to operate clinics and hotlines because it had too few staff on duty to cover the county.
Many of the concerns appear to be supported by evidence gathered in a Guardian investigation that has drawn on data from computer records, drivers’ logs, internal correspondence and interviews with several sources connected with different parts of the Serco operation in Cornwall who have asked to remain anonymous.
Serco has also confirmed some of the allegations. But it denies that the service is unsafe and says it is acting within the terms of its contract with the local primary care trust, which allows it to adjust waiting time figures according to who was to blame and make “comfort calls” to patients who have waited a long time. It did not comment on the whistleblower reports of how many patients were left waiting to be assessed at its call centre.
Placing tortured asylum seekers into immigration detention in Britain – where private companies “take care” of aspects of this process – is shameful. Britain’s Channel 4 has the story:
Meanwhile, in Australia Serco is loving the increase in asylum boats. The more the merrier. Yesterday’s Australian records the screams of joy from the Serco board-room:
The private contracting company that runs Australia’s immigration detention centres has reported record profits, as the number of asylum-seekers rises to levels not seen in more than a decade.
New figures show Serco’s revenues reached $692 million last year, up from $369m in the previous calendar year.
While many companies in Australia are doing it tough, Serco reported a $59m profit after tax, close to a 50 per cent increase on its $40.5m profit in 2010.
Serco Australia is part of the global Serco Group, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange.
The company renegotiated its contract with the Department of Immigration late last year after an increase in the number of detention centres.
It signed a $370m five-year contract in June 2009 to manage seven immigration detention centres and provide transport services.
There are now more than 20 centres and Serco’s contract is worth $1 billion.
With reports yesterday that the number of asylum-seekers was returning to the levels last seen in 2001, Serco is likely to further profit from the surge in arrivals.
Rivalling the $1bn detention centre contract is Serco’s $1.3bn contract with the West Australian Department of Health to provide services to the Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth.
The company employs 3564 people and as well as running immigration detention centres also provides “systems engineering work and related services” and “equity investment management”. It has $81m in cash and cash equivalents on its books, borrowings of just $7.6m and net assets of $157m.
Serco also has a five-year contract with the Queensland Department of Corrective Services managing the new South Queensland Correctional Centre in Gatton. Serco values that particular deal at $100m.
The company also has a $500m contract with the Royal Australian Navy.
The only people really benefitting from the steady stream of asylum seekers to Australia are the heads of multinational Serco. Sydney’s Sun Herald reports:
A surge in asylum seeker boats has delivered an explosion in profits for the private company operating Australia’s detention centres.
Serco Australia, a division of a British multinational, enjoyed a 45 per cent rise in net profits to $59 million last year.
The revenue of the company, which has the mandate to run the immigration detention services on behalf of the federal government, almost doubled from $369 million to $693 million.
Serco Australia’s compliance with local laws on reporting financial statements has been less impressive. Once again, in contravention of the Corporations Act, its financial statements were filed late this year.
And the disclosure in its accounts, according to a leading academic in the field of accounting and regulation, failed to comply with Australian accounting standards.
”Rules are rules,” said Jeffrey Knapp, a senior lecturer at the University of NSW. ”Serco has broken them. Serco Australia Pty Ltd is a reporting entity and should do a general purpose financial report like BHP or Telstra, including full disclosures of related-party transactions and balances.”
Serco’s high cash flow, low debt levels and 35 per cent profit margins would make it the envy of the corporate elite. Few of Australia’s top 100 companies matched the profit rises or margins of Serco when they last reported. Serco’s profits had also doubled the year before.
The rise in the number of asylum seekers since the breakdown of the government’s Malaysia plan has led to an increase in detention centres from 12 to 20 across the mainland, Tasmania and Christmas Island. In the 2010-11 financial year, a total of 8874 people were taken into detention. It has also meant a lucrative new $1 billion contract for Serco, in a deal renegotiated with the government last December. A contract to manage the immigration residential housing program had blown out from $44.5 million to $85.6 million.
It is difficult to tell from Serco Australia’s financial statements how profitable is the outsourcing of immigration detention.
If more evidence was needed of the global menace that is British multinational Serco (via Salon):
On April 4, Barbara Harms’ boss forced her to attend a meeting about why she shouldn’t join a union. The two-hour, on-the-clock meeting was run by Michael Penn, a professional anti-union consultant. Harms says Penn told workers that “you’re going to sign your life away if you sign a union card … the union would tell you to go out on strike … the place could close down.” The meeting left Harms and other pro-union workers frustrated and angry. Especially because their taxes made it possible.
Harms works at the National Benefits Center (NBC) office in Lee’s Summit, Mo. She’s not directly employed by the federal government but is, instead, a contractor. She is one of about 800 workers there employed by the British company Serco, or Serco’s subcontractors, to process immigration paperwork under Serco’s contract with the federal government ($190 million a year, as of 2009). Penn, meanwhile, is a partner at the anti-union firm Crossroads Group. According to the most recent contract he filed with the Department of Labor (for a different client), his services cost $350 an hour. Serco presumably paid for Penn’s time out of its own pocket. But taxpayers paid for the facilities — from office space to audiovisual equipment — he used to campaign against the union.
Like Harms, many Americans would resent the prospect of taxpayer dollars, or taxpayer-funded resources, being deployed to bust a union drive. President Obama once seemed to be against it, as well. In his first month in office, President Obama signed an executive order apparently aimed at similar situations. Obama’s order forbids government reimbursement for “the costs of any activities undertaken to persuade employees … to exercise or not to exercise … the right to organize and bargain collectively.”
But as Serco and its subcontractors fight to stay union free at the NBC, workers and union staffers say the order has meant less than they’d hoped. And despite Obama’s order, the government says that Serco can use government facilities to fight unionization without breaking the law. Now, some union activists are questioning whether Obama’s support for them is as firm as it once seemed. “We have an executive order that sounds good,” says Chris Townsend, the political action director for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). “But I am yet to be convinced that [it] amounts to anything.”
Serco isn’t the only company to aggressively combat unionization while reaping a taxpayer-funded windfall. A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government had awarded over $6 billion in contracts in fiscal 2009 to contractors that had been cited for violating federal labor laws, from wage and hour rules to organizing rights. Earlier in 2010, the New York Times reported that the White House was planning to implement a “high road” contracting policy that would direct more government contracts to companies with better labor and environmental records. But by 2011, Obama OMB nominee Heather Higginbottom told senators in a confirmation hearing that there were no such plans afoot.
Back in late 2011, journalist Paul Farrell and yours truly released in New Matilda, via Freedom of Information, the secret contract between the Australian government and Serco with the details of imprisoning asylum seekers in Australia. It showed the lack of training required by Serco staff when working around vulnerable refugees. Both parties imposed a regime that reminded one of a maximum security prison. When I visited Christmas Island and Curtin detention centres last year I saw evidence of this mentality in practice.
Now Crikey has released another document that also paints Serco in a terrible light:
A prison-style training manual produced by the company contracted to run Australia’s detention centres contains explicit instructions on how to “hit” and “strike” asylum seekers.
The 400-page, illustrated 2010 and 2009 Serco induction training documents, obtained by Crikey, shows how prison staff are trained to kick, punch and jab their fingers into detainee limbs and “pressure points” to render them motionless.
Serco, which has a $1 billion contract with the Gillard government to run nine asylum outposts, has repeatedly fought the release of similar documents, claiming other versions are not in the “public interest” and could cause commotion inside lockups. (Read the full manual here).
The “control and restraint” techniques included in the 2009 training course manual recommends the use of “pain” to defend, subdue and control asylum seekers through straight punches, palm heel strikes, side angle kicks, front thrust kicks and knee strikes.
“Subdue the subject using reasonable force so that he/she is no longer in the assailant category,” it explains.
“If justified, necessary force is to be used to bring the subject to cooperative subjective status whereupon they respond favourably to verbalisation.”
Under a section headed “principles in controlling Resistive Behaviour”, guards are told to cause pain, stun, distract, unbalance and use “striking technique” to cause “motor dysfunction”.
Guards are told to target specific “pressure points” in the manner of riot squad police to squeeze nerves as ” a valuable subject control option”.
“They enhance your ability, to compel compliance from unco-operative subjects,” it explains. The “expected effect” is “medium to high level pain”.
In one instance, guards, referred to by the government and Serco as “Client Services Officers”, are taught to attack detainees’ jugulars to cause them to fall over.
In another, they are told to employ a “downward kick” to the “lower shin” to cause “high level of pain and mental stunning” lasting up to seven seconds.
Batons are a useful weapon for guards to cause “medium to high tensity [sic] pain” and “forearm muscle cramping”. “Strikes should be delivered by a hammer fist,” it says.
Underpinning the kicking and punching and baton instructions is “two forms of strikes”. The “cutting strike” using a baton, “impacts” the detainee, “continuing through in one fluid motion … this could be equated to following through when swinging a bat”.
The Fluid Shock Wave principle is employed to “…generate optimum fluid shock with a hand, baton or knee”.
Of course the Federal Labor government is embarrassed that its dirty little secret is out and simply claims things have changed:
A 2010 Serco training manual detailing the force to be used by staff on hostile detainees is no longer relevant because it has been superseded by other manuals, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen says.
The manual which was yesterday leaked online by Crikey had chapters that explicitly outlined how staff could use pain as a means of restraining and controlling aggressive detainees, including the infliction of straight punches, palm heel strikes, side angle kicks, front thrust kicks and knee strikes.
Mr Bowen said the manual was no longer in use “and does not reflect very clear guidelines agreed to by Serco and the Department of Immigration on engagement with people in detention facilities”.
“I am advised that the 2010 manual contained errors and has been superseded by other manuals, most recently the 2012 training guide,” he said.
“Any use of force or restraint in any detention environment is used strictly as a last resort.”
The theory behind the strikes was to “create temporary motor dysfunction” and “temporary muscle impairment” through the “fluid shock wave” that gets sent around detainees’ bodies, but only leaves bruising, the manual explained.
It also suggested that to “generate optimal fluid shock with a hand or baton” it was best to put a person’s whole body weight behind the strike.
Mr Bowen said Serco staff in immigration detention facilities did not carry weapons and the manual contained errors.
But a spokesman for Serco revealed that batons were present at the detention facilities and could be used defensively by “a very limited number of specially trained staff, along with other personal protective equipment”.
Today Crikey follows up the story and shows that secrecy is how this government operates and Serco is happy to assist:
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded to Crikey’s publication of the 2009 and 2010 Serco training manual — calling the manual “out-dated” and “no-longer in use”. Yet Bowen, the Immigration Department and Serco have refused to detail how the British-owned multinational has altered or updated it.
A spokesperson for Bowen told Crikey this morning the Minister would not be “discussing further the contents of the current manual for matters of operational security”.
When asked how many Serco guards trained in combat techniques to hit, strike and jab asylum seekers remain employed in the detention system, a Serco spokesperson responded that “staff receive refresher training at least annually, based on the most recent training materials”.
Serco didn’t explain what has been altered or updated in its induction documents, despite Department spokesperson Sandi Logan asserting there has been “at least four iterations” of the Serco training manual since 2009-10, including a 2012 version.
Having spent extensive time in Australian detention centres across the country, this news, via the Sydney Morning Herald, is sadly predictable but shows the utter contempt by authorities towards a free press.
Following America’s lead in Gitmo for media? What cretins. And what role, if any, has British multinational Serco played in these restrictions?
The Immigration Department developed its new, highly restrictive policy on media visits to detention centres with reference to US military arrangements governing media access to the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention centre.
Documents released under freedom of information show the ”deed of agreement” that Immigration insists journalists and media organisations visiting detention centres must sign was ”informed by … the current US Department of Defence media access policy for its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay”.
The department also justified extremely tight media control and censorship to the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, as ”the right balance” in circumstances that included ”the current climate associated with media ethics, media ‘phone hacking’ [in Britain]”.
In an email to a reporter who was consulted on the policy, Immigration’s national communications manager, Sandi Logan, said, ”I reckon while the phone hacking scandal is all the rage, what else would the media expect of us? Trust you say? Gimme a break, sorry!”
The Greens’ immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said yesterday ”the idea that [media access] guidelines have, even in part, been inspired by Guantanamo Bay is absolutely appalling – it really shows the attitude of Immigration and [the] government – they have forgotten that they are dealing with asylum seekers, not criminals or terrorists.”
The policy requires that journalists visiting detention centres must be escorted at all times by Immigration officers. There is a bar on any ”substantive communication” with detainees, a right for officials to censor recordings, and the right for Immigration to immediately end any visit.
The chief executives of the largest media organisations, including Fairfax Media’s Greg Hywood, News Ltd’s Kim Williams and the heads of all TV broadcast networks last month condemned the agreement as ”unacceptable censorship”.
Documents released to the Herald under FOI show the agreement was drafted with reference to past departmental policy and present practice at NSW, Victorian and Queensland prisons.
In his submission, Mr Logan justified tight restrictions on media access to safeguard the privacy of detainees, prevent publicity that could affect refugee claims and to manage ”risks that during any media visits detainee clients would use the media’s presence as an opportunity to protest their continuing detention”.
Mr Logan privately consulted 12 journalists. More responses were negative than positive, with the proposed arrangements being described as ”incredibly restrictive”, ”draconian and heavy-handed”, ”a shocker” and ”a lawyer’s picnic.” However Immigration made no further submission to Mr Bowen who endorsed new arrangements without amendment on October 6.
Since October, the ABC, SBS, Channels Seven, Nine and Ten, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph have signed the deed of agreement for visits variously to detention facilities at Villawood, Maribyrnong, Inverbrackie and Wickham Point.
In their letter to Mr Bowen last month, media CEOs argued the fact media organisations have signed the deed ”should not be taken as agreement to its terms”.