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Our Movement Must Fight Back – Jon Trickett’s End of Year Column

“The Tories have spent 10 years prioritising wealth over health. Their austerity driven ideological assault on the state left in its wake a public sector woefully ill-equipped to deal with the crisis.”

Jon Trickett MP

December 2020 marks the end of an incredibly busy year for comrades Ian Lavery, Laura Smith and myself. Although like everyone, we have spent this year “locked down”. But we didn’t sit around feeling miserable.  We went on a virtual tour of the country as part of our No Holding Back movement.  

We “virtually” visited every region and nation of the UK, listening to our movement’s grassroots in many of the communities that for too long have been held back.

Everywhere we went we frequently heard the same message. Our political system is broken. The views of everyday people have been disregarded by a privileged elite who believe they were born to rule over us. They have no interest in creating an equal society for all, based on social justice. Their sole aim is to protect their own interests and those of their chums.

And the Government’s catastrophic handling of this Pandemic has shown this in reality. On the Tories’ watch, tens of thousands of preventable deaths have tragically occurred. A litany of errors have left us with the highest death toll from Covid in the western world. But this is not purely by accident. It is also by design. The Tories have spent 10 years prioritising wealth over health. Their austerity driven ideological assault on the state left in its wake a public sector woefully ill-equipped to deal with the crisis.   

Covid-19 also brought the issue of chumocracy into sharp focus. The lengths this Tory government and the Tory Party will go to protect their interests at the expense of their own citizens has been unmasked.

Public services have been starved of investment for years. The public sector has been completely hollowed out. Rather than acknowledge this for what it is, the Tories have spent the biggest crisis since the Second World War doubling down on their outsourcing agenda to disastrous effect.

The procurement of Covid contracts is symptomatic of our broken politics. 843 Covid contracts have been awarded to private companies by the Government to the tune of £10 billion. Not one of these were competitively tendered. One organisation, PestFix, a pest control company, was awarded a £32 million contract to supply PPE. Over £1 billion of these contracts have gone directly to companies run by individuals with close ties to the Tories, including donors. Four contracts worth £91 million have gone to ex Tory MP and party donor David Mellor, owner of Mellor Designs. Three contracts worth £276 million to P14 Medical, whose director is a Tory Councillor. And of course, four contracts worth £214 million to Serco, whose CEO is a Tory donor and brother of a former Tory MP. The list goes on.

These backroom deals are conducted using our money – taxpayer’s money. Yet no competitive, transparent tendering process has been followed. Any sense of probity has been utterly abandoned.

Let’s call this for what it is – cronyism on an industrial scale. Doing deals in the dark, giving out massive contracts to friends and party donors is morally corrupt. During an unprecedented crisis, the Tories have been preoccupied with lining the pockets of their pals at the expense of a Covid-19 response.

The Tories outsourcing public services is not a new phenomenon of course. They have spent the past decade fundamentally reshaping local government and health and social care.

95% of care at home was provided by local councils in 1993. The majority of care is now provided by private companies. “Privatisation has improved the quality of care” the Tories may shoot back. Well, the individuals working in the sector do not seem to agree. Two thirds of adult social care workers believe the quality of care has dropped directly due to outsourcing.  

Privatisation is sweeping through our NHS. The share of health contracts taken by non-NHS organisations has risen from 58.8% in 2017/18 to 65.3% in 2018/19. And it could get worse. Despite Tory denials, trade deals for our NHS are being negotiated with countries all over the world. These dodgy deals will only entrench privatisation further.

Local Government has also been severely hamstrung by privatisation. 78% of local authorities say insourcing gives them more flexibility. Two-thirds say this saves them money, and over half say it has improved the quality of the service. Outsourcing of local services is inefficient as well as a colossal waste of money.

However, it is the Tories who claim they can be trusted with the public purse, but are spending £4.6 billion every year on the procurement exercises required to award private contracts within local government. The evidence is clear. The only beneficiaries of outsourcing are the Tory party and their cronies. They get richer whilst the rest of us suffer.

According to The Independent, mistakes in outsourcing, uncovered by analysis of 52 inquiries conducted between June 2016 and July 2019, have cost UK taxpayers £14.3bn. The TUC estimates that private outsourcing firms receive £3,500 per household through tax for public services. And who could forget the collapse of Carillion. The National Audit Office estimate that the cost to the taxpayer of liquidation was £148 million. 

Workers’ rights are upheld in the public sector. Workers suffer from privatisation and the Tories know it. Outsourcing is reducing terms and conditions of workers, leaving them at the mercy of worse wages and insecure work.

The undeniable fact is that outsourcing is more expensive for the taxpayer and households. A poorer quality service is provided through an exploited workforce at the expense of big business.

A reckoning is upon us. Who will foot the bill for Covid will be the defining political question of 2021. It must not be the majority who long before this Pandemic were suffering from a system of Government whose sole aim is to pick apart the state, propping up shareholders and big business.

Working people have paid for the Tories’ ideological obsession with outsourcing for too long, and to the tune of billions of pounds.

Our movement must fight back. It is time to change the narrative for this impending post Covid world, shaping it in the mould of properly funded public services that invest in people, not profit.

  • This is the final Jon Trickett ‘No Holding Back’ column of 2020. We would like to thank all our regular Labour Outlook MP columnists – Jon, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon, John McDonnell and Kate Osborne.

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