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13.05.14

Fresh calls to bar G4s and Serco from public sector contracts

The Howard League for Penal Reform has renewed its call for outsourcing companies G4S and Serco to be barred from bidding for government business until a major fraud investigation into their practices has been completed. 

The companies are being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and have agreed to repay a total of more than £180m after it emerged they overcharged the taxpayer for electronic tagging. A new dossier, outlining ‘years of failure’ by the two companies in delivering justice contracts, has also been compiled by the Howard League. 

The report – ‘Corporate Crime? A dossier on the failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system’ – includes details on how Macmillan nurses were prevented, for contractual reasons, from entering a G4S prison to help an inmate dying of cancer; how a terminally-ill prisoner on his way to hospital was kept waiting in handcuffs for 40 minutes in the street, in full view of the public, while G4S staff went to a bakery for lunch; and how a Serco children’s prison became the most violent jail in England and Wales. 

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We are asking the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police to use their resources and expertise to help the SFO with its complex investigation into possible widespread criminality by companies profiting from public money when they deliver justice services.

“The dossier compiled by the Howard League is a litany of failure by private companies. The delivery of justice is one of the most precious public services and we must, as a nation, adhere to the highest standards of probity.” 

Last month it was announced that G4S will be considered for government business again after it was barred from bidding for new contracts in a row about overcharging. But the Cabinet Office said G4S had taken “positive steps” to change its practices and engaged “constructively” with the government. 

However, the company has not bid for any government work since the Ministry of Justice started an investigation a year ago into its supply of electronic monitoring tags for prisoners in England and Wales since 2005. 

Earlier this year, a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) stated that the government is failing to manage performance “across the board” with contracts it enters with private firms. The report also stated that the public’s trust in outsourcing had been undermined by the poor performance of G4S in supplying security guards for the Olympics and the “astonishing” news that G4S and Serco had overcharged for years on electronic tagging contracts. 

A more comprehensive report from the Howard League, considering failures by other private firms such as Sodexo and GEOAmey, will be sent to MPs on the PAC. 

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told PSE: “We have undertaken a major review of contract management which resulted in a significant repayment by Serco and G4S for overcharging. We are confident we have in place robust and accountable contract management systems which ensure failings do not happen again. 

“The private sector has an important role to play in helping deliver much needed reforms. We remain committed to promoting a diverse market including public, private and voluntary sector, as well as ensuring rigorous contract management and high standards of behaviour.” 

Additionally, Serco told us: “Following the issues of last year, we are implementing a comprehensive corporate renewal programme within Serco delivering organisational change across the business. Our programme of renewal was positively assessed by the Cabinet Office at the end of January.”

(Image: G4S) 

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