Talking about the role of Serco negatively affecting public freedom

It’s a discussion that rarely occurs in Western countries where Serco (and other corporations) are increasingly intruding on our lives. As citizens we are meant to silently accept the influence of these unaccountable firms. Privatisation will set us free, apparently.

Resistance is most certainly not futile. Take this recent piece by Zoe Williams in the Guardian:

One Society has produced some data on pay differentials, called A Third of a Percent (this is the pay of a UK low-paid worker compared to their chief executives). They found that private firms whose main income came from the public sector paid CEOs far more than the highest paid public sector employee. So, for instance, “Serco, which receives over 90% of its business from the public sector, paid Christopher Hyman an estimated …£3,149,950 in 2010. This is six times more than the highest paid UK public servant and 11 times more than the highest-paid UK local authority CEO.”

It’s hard to compare Hyman to the lowest paid Serco employee, since the bottom figure visible on the collective bargaining records is for a Docklands Light Railway passenger service agent, at …£35,000. But that almost certainly doesn’t represent the bottom of the pay spine – for the period from 1 April 2009 electricians in Serco’s Integrated Services bargaining unit were subject to a pay deal with a minimum rate equivalent to …£10,358 a year.

Not wishing to pick on Serco, since the situations in A4e, Capita and G4S are similar, these companies do, when they have a profit glitch, behave like any other big four with a stranglehold on the money supply: they squeeze suppliers. Last year, worried about local authority cuts (which of course hadn’t happened at this point), Serco sent out a letter to suppliers demanding a 2.5% reduction in costs, on the basis that, “Like the government, we are looking to determine who our real partners are that we can rely upon. Your response will no doubt indicate your commitment to our partnership”. They rescinded this after widespread outrage, but the message will have been easily recognised by anyone who’s ever objected to the working strategy of a major supermarket: we’re your conduit to the public cash cow, and you’ll do as we say.

Meanwhile in Australia, Serco operates with government backing (though public opposition, such as this Facebook page Serco Watch, is growing):

A lucrative IT contract for the new Fiona Stanley Hospital has been awarded to a British company in what has been touted by the state opposition as a continued disregard of keeping local jobs in Western Australia.

The decision follows the opposition’s outcry about the need to protect locally resourced jobs after BlueScope Steel axed more than 1000 staff in Victoria and New South Wales because it could no longer compete in the export market.

Now controversial hospital operator Serco, which is primarily a British company, has awarded British Telecommunications the IT services contract as part of a “boys looking after boys” deal, according to opposition spokesperson for IT strategy Andrew Waddell.

Mr Waddell said Serco had followed a similar path when contracting BT on behalf of the British government’s National Health Service.

“[The British Government] didn’t think they were getting value for money running their hospitals but the difference with the outsourcing model is that no one takes responsibility,” Mr Waddell said.

“If there is a crisis at the Fiona Stanley Hospital say in 10 years time, who will take responsibility for that? Not the government of the day.

“They will say it’s up to the people that they outsourced it to and there doesn’t seem to be anything in the contract to rectify a problem if a problem like that arose.

“Who will be forced to fix things? In the end it’s the public that cops the brunt.”

He said although Serco’s early tender included shopping around for providers, there was no evidence to suggest they had done anything more than automatically contract BT.

“That’s the amazing thing, local rules were bypassed and local providers were given no opportunity,” he said.

“The situation was made worse by the fact that many of the key performance indicators relating to IT services at Fiona Stanley were not included in Serco’s contract.

“Several performance parameters that were included in the contract had key information blacked out.”

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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