Keep profit out of child protection

Janet Downs's picture
The charity Children England has mounted a petition expressing grave concerns about Government plans to outsource child protection to for-profit companies such as Serco and G4S.

Child protection involves sensitive, complex decisions. They need to be made by professionals who are not employed by companies whose first responsibility as businesses is to their shareholders.

The Olympic Games were nearly scuppered when G4S failed to meet its obligations. Defence minister, Philip Hammond, said the debacle showed that private firms are not suited to providing many public services.

In December, it was reported that G4S faces an investigation into the way it handled its contract to manage facilities in British courts. The Serious Fraud Office had been informed. In March, justice minister Chris Grayling said G4S may face criminal proceedings over its alleged overcharging of at least £24m on electronic tagging and prisoner escort.

Serco ran education in Bradford for ten years. It’s now been taken back by the Council. Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Britain’s “Fat Cats” was critical of Serco’s involvement.

The collapse of Southern Cross should be a warning about what can happen when services to vulnerable people are offered to any willing provider.

Four former employees of the welfare-to-work firm A4e have admitted in court they swindled the tax payer. When accusations were first made two years ago, the chair, Emma Harrison, who’d received £8.6m dividend from A4e despite it being fully-funded by public money, resigned.

A senior infantry regiment spokesperson told the Telegraph that the Capita contract to manage army recruitment had eroded a previously-successful system. And Capita failed to deliver court translation services. Capita has been involved with controversy so often that the satirical magazine Private Eye has named it "Crapita".

But the Government wants to hand over services which protect our most vulnerable children to for-profit companies.


It’s not too late to sign the petition. Neither is it too late to have your say – but you will need to hurry because the consultation ends on Friday. Follow this link if you want your views to be heard.
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Andy V's picture
Wed, 28/05/2014 - 16:31

So too have 38 Degrees started a lobbying strategy against this move:

This link give further information and the opportunity to send an email stating your reasons for being against the idea (including a helpful set of scaffolded prompts).

For what it is worth my input was:

“On the one hand I can understand your suggestion that the introduction of private companies to provide children’s services will encourage innovation. However, on the other hand the track record of such outsourcing thus far is at best a chequered (e.g. ATOS reviews of ability to work, G4S and security at the Olympics, and SERCO in court for defrauding the taxpayer).

This way to the very real problems and inherited costs to the taxpayer linked to privatisation/outsourcing.

The safeguarding and child protection services for our children and vulnerable persons is far too important and simply isn't appropriate for outsourcing let alone privatisation. The wellbeing our young and vulnerable is not and never should be a commercial profitised operation. There is no profit and loss or balance sheet. There is however and end product which is manifest in protected and well balanced individuals.

It is far better and effective on the ground and in the purview of the electorate that the money set aside for privatisation be invested in better staffing and rigorous accountability of how local authorities conduct this highly significant and important role.”

So alongside Janet's link seeking support to tell the government (Gove and DFE) to keep child protection in the public domain, there is a second channel through which to air your views (and hopefully opposition).

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 28/05/2014 - 18:50

Would you please add an addendum to this partition;

to remove all profit from the system such as that gained by way above average earnings of pseudo-socialist trades union chief executives who are in fact de facto monocapitalist cartel operators.

Or realise it's a bit more complicated than simply saying private bad and public good.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 16:44

Ben - I challenge you list all the UK fat cat chief executives in descending order of salary + perks + bonuses. It will be a very, very long way down before you come to anybody employed by a trade union, where salaries are paid and controlled by the members.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 28/05/2014 - 20:06

Ben, I've no idea where your comment reflects what either Janet or I said. Neither of us came anywhere near suggesting, let alone saying, that "private bad and public good". What is being said is that there are some activities that do not lend themselves to outsourcing/privatisation. Why, because they are too important to society/the community to become numbers on a P&L or Balance sheet. In this regard, my position is that child protection is simply too important to be undertaken outside the public authority domain.

It follows then that your comment, "remove all profit from the system such as that gained by way above average earnings of pseudo-socialist trades union chief executives who are in fact de facto monocapitalist cartel operators" has no bearing or relation to the topic in hand, and as such appears to be a deliberate attempt to deflect from the topic by introducing an irrelevant red herring.

Come on Ben, your better than this level of sniping and obfuscation.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 28/05/2014 - 20:39

I am not sure Andy

We already have private companies running care homes for children in local authority care.

I can only really speak from experience.

In 2010 I wrote a letter to a private home I worked for who let a sexually abused underage girl old walk out at 7 pm to prostitute herself. I wrote letters about this to relevant authorities never heard back.

I refused to work there again.

To put the other side I also saw social care users in LA buildings where bathroom tiles fell off the wall covered in faeces.

Too simple I am afraid to simply label providers good or bad according to ownership.

We need effective mechanisms for change. Sometimes private companies offer an alternative to bad state provision, and vice versa.

So let's speak truth to power /offer choice.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 28/05/2014 - 21:49

Yes, I've just come back from rescuing my mother from public sector/local authority "care", where she too was left in her own faeces. I am now going to entrust her welfare to the private sector, hoping that they will see it in their interests to treat her with more dignity.

It certainly isn't so simple as public sector good; private bad.

I nodded approvingly when Mark Radcliffe on the Hove Park thread said that public services institutionalize decency. Not so sure now.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 06:26

Ben, Underlying my position is that of accountability and responsibility and from that angle private providers, as has been proven (e.g. Southern Cross, Prospects Academies, G4S) can simply fold and walk away whereas local authorities can't. This is why I'd much rather see the money that would be used to effectively sell-off the child protection activity be used to increase the accountability and responsibility of local authorities.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 08:09

Barry - I'm sorry to hear about the treatment suffered by your mother and hope when she is safely settled elsewhere you will complain loudly.

You're right it's not a case of public sector good/private bad. And there are well-documented cases where standards of care in both public and private have fallen well below what's expected. All such cases should be fully investigated and dealt with.

However, when public services are outsourced to private companies it's important to remember the main responsibility for a business is to its shareholders. These services aren't like shops where customers can go elsewhere. The recipients of these services, to put it in business terms, are a captive customer base.

And when the "customer" is a vulnerable child then the responsibility for that child rests firmly with the state (that's us as members of society). As Andy says, it would be wiser to invest in proper scrutiny of state-provided services than outsource them to firms like Serco, G4S and Crapita.

FJM's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 10:08

Birmingham, Rochdale, Rotherham, Islington. Need I say more? Some private providers are excellent and some are not. The same goes for LAs. Ultimately, a private provider which is useless goes bust, but an LA just carries on, and, in the case of the NHS, those responsible get promotion or massive pay-offs. As Deng Xiao Ping said, "What does it matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice?"

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 15:12

FJM - You're right that LAs don't always work to the standard expected (did you know that Lincolnshire cut children's services by £500,000 in order to keep council tax down?). But your contention that a "useless" private provider goes bust isn't borne out by the evidence. The businesses that made such a hash of public contracts (see my list) are still in business and making millions. And they're likely to be in the running for child protection.

Rather unfortunate quotation - Deng Xiao Ping supported the violent clearing of Tiananmen Square with considerable loss of life. And are the "cats" the outsourcing companies with the "mice" being the children they're supposed to care for?

Andy V's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 16:29

FJM, Like Janet I accept that LAs get it wrong too and have never suggested otherwise. However, in terms of accountability and responsibility for failures breakdowns - with exception of Serco and its tagging fraud - I have yet to note a private provider being prosecuted. Yes, we've seen individual employees lose their jobs, face internal disciplinary sanctions and the CPS take an interest in some of the worst cases but no CEO, MD or the like has faced action for the breach of laws involved. Janet rightly mentions Southern Cross. This saw a breaches of the law pertaining to vulnerable individuals and the company fold and walk away without legal action against the executives.

The only reason any government of any political hue outsources is on the grounds of operating costs, which in the case of child protection leaves me cold. Those charged with child protection must be held fully accountable with no small print opt outs to facilitate successful privatisation and hence my preference for upping the anti on scrutiny and accountability. As Janet has rightly said, child protection is a responsibility of the state but I can foresee a scenario wherein this government will outsource and a high profile breakdown/failure occurs during the next government but those responsible for the decision will face no legal scrutiny or face charges for neglect of their duty of care. The political system will simply say, sorry as regrettable as it is, the responsibility rests with the operating company (and then we're back to the unpublished contractual small print).

agov's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 08:31

How many bankers have, as yet, been executed or even arrested for having wrecked the global economy?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 16:56

FJM - Private providers funded by the taxpayer very rarely go bust even when they cock-up spectacularly. They get forgiven, then given another whopping contract. It is part of the long term plan of the government to divert our taxes into private profits.

LA officers are appointed and replaced ultimately by voters for the sole purpose of providing public services, which the great majority do very effectively. The obvious example is schools. Compare the costs of the LA provided school system with the £billions spent by Gove on his Academies and Free Schools and the vast state funded bureaucracy, rich in more private sector parasites, that is needed to support them.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 18:47

I agree 100 % about poor remedies for private provision.

I would support various forms of financial protection for this kind of outsourcing such as bonds, insurance etc. We do it in commercial world now. It may be happening it doeds on PFI.

The quid pro quo is the public sector being similarly binded.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 19:31

Ben, You've hit one of my fears on the head. The private sector would pay for failure and mistreatment of vulnerable and children through financial remedy, whereas the culprits (lowly to the top) should face legal sanction (criminal charges) as appropriate to the circumstances.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 07:19

Ben - PFI has been a disaster which leaves the taxpayer having to pay millions in interest alone for many years to come. Poorly drawn-up contracts (eg Peteborough City Hospital) have left hospital trust facing crippling debts an dpossible collapse.

Such a collapse, of course, would make such trusts ripe for private sector take-over (but only the profitable bits, naturally).

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 29/05/2014 - 12:59

Agreed. The directors of companies providing such services need to be liable for everything. No privatisation of profit and socialisation of debt.

Don't think public service provision always means more accountable and responsible.

FJM's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 09:28

How many NHS executives have been executed for the hundreds who died wallowing in excrement in Mid Staffs Hospital, or LA executives in Islington who allowed children to be raped by homosexual paedophiles or in Rotherham for ignoring the gang rape of girls in children's homes by Muslim grooming gangs? Should we hang Gordon Brown for PFI? (Bankers have, in fact, been arrested in the USA.) I don't think that think, however, that this line of discussion is going to be very fruitful.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 12:27

This getting out of hand and way off track. Quite where the UK criminal code and associated sanctions mentions 'execution' is completely beyond me.

While there undoubtedly is merit in a debate on accountability and responsibility in the wider field of public and private entities activities, this would be better left to a different forum. What is being brought to LSN followers consideration is the issue of privatising child protection and it is to that I would recommend discussion be framed by. In turn people can choose to sign the petition and/or contribute to the consultation or ignore the whole thing.

If we stick to this then the outcome can be fruitful in terms of getting involved in the petition/consultation or not as people see fit.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 14:45

Thanks, Andy, for steering the thread away from a public/private tit-for-tat of mounting horrors.

I've already said some LAs have been found wanting (I'm a regular reader of Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column). However, it appears the Government's response is not just to bring those responsible to book or help them improve but to outsource all child protection services even from those LAs which were doing well.

Some data might help put children's services into perspective:

There have been 12 inspections since the new framework came into effect in November 2013:

0 was Outstanding
6 were Good
4 Require Improvement
2 (Coventry and Slough) Inadequate

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 30/05/2014 - 17:05

Dear me FJM. The NHS disasters have all been caused by cultural failures as described in the Francis report. The cultural failures have all resulted from imposing private sector structures and management systems onto state funded hospitals. Compare Scotland where very sensibly the NHS is managed as an efficient state bureaucracy. Better services and no scandals there at all. That is why there are virtually no private sector ideologues elected anywhere north of the border to anything. They are an extinct species.

agov's picture
Sat, 31/05/2014 - 10:53

Exactly Roger.

The notion that failure is punished in the private but not in the public sector is twaddle.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 24/06/2014 - 14:42

Thought contributors may like to note that I've just received a round robin email from 38 degrees stating that the government have backed away from privatising child protection services.

Not sure whether the link will work but just in case:

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/06/2014 - 15:35

Andy - thanks for that update. I'd also received the 38 degrees notification. I've had to remove the link you gave because it linked to my in-box!

Perhaps the link recognised that I'd also received the same e-mail. Maybe clicking on the link you provided would link to the in-box of anyone clicking on it who also received the 38 Degrees round robin.

However, I've found a Guardian article.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 24/06/2014 - 15:37

Thanks for disconnecting my link Janet. I'll remember that for next time :-)

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