“Outsourcing, privatisation & dodgy deals with the private sector have run through the government’s response to the pandemic like words through a stick of rock.”Pascale Robinson, We Own It.
Outsourcing, privatisation and dodgy deals with the private sector have run through the government’s response to the pandemic like words through a stick of rock. Yesterday, the Labour Party has revealed once again just how far this goes. According to its research, an eye watering £2 billion worth of contracts have been given out to companies that have direct ties to the Conservative Party. No wonder, when the National Audit Office found that the government had set up a “high priority” channel for procurement which saw firms with a link to an MP, Lord or government advisor being ten times as likely to receive a contract than those that did not.
This has had a catastrophic impact on the pandemic response. Take Serco, where Health Minister Edward Argar was previously head of public affairs in Europe. Serco has mismanaged and messed up its running of the test, track and trace system so badly that the government had to change the way it measures the operation’s figures to make it look like the company is doing a better job. Elsewhere, at the height of the pandemic’s first wave, when NHS staff were suffering under major PPE shortages, Ayanda Capital had been granted a £155 million contract brokered by an advisor to the Board of Trade. 50 million masks were bought in the deal – none of which could be used in the NHS.
Time and time again, we’ve seen companies with no experience delivering a service being slipped a multi-million pound deal to run it, and more often than not run it atrociously. Companies synonymous with disaster – like Serco – and those who have lobbied for the privatisation of our NHS – like McKinsey – have been put at the heart of the pandemic response.
The result? Covid transmissions spiralled out of control, people who have come into contact with someone who has contracted the disease haven’t been reached and asked to isolate, and our NHS staff were left without the vital equipment needed to keep them safe. This Tory obsession with outsourcing and handing out contracts to their mates like sweets in a school playground has put countless lives needlessly at risk.
The press have labelled this “chumocracy” or “cronyism”. They’re mincing their words. It’s corruption, plain and simple. And the public agree. In December, polling from Survation found that a majority of the British public thought that the “high priority” procurement channel amounted to corruption.
Things could have been very different. The government’s pandemic response didn’t need to lead to the shifting of billions of pounds of public money into the hands of the private sector with little or nothing to show for it. Instead, we could have invested properly in a publicly run response managed in the interest of public health, not private profit. We’ve seen what this would have delivered. Where local public health teams have been in charge of parts of the test, track and trace system, they have consistently outperformed the Serco run system. The vaccination programme is primarily led by the NHS and primary care services. It has been the one part of the pandemic response that could be described as a success.
This pandemic has exposed the folly of outsourcing and privatisation for all to see. We can never again let our NHS be run down and replaced by mega contracts with private companies. We can never again let corruption seep into the heart of public health policy. And we can never again let public health be sidelined to line the pockets of Tory donors and friends.
Private companies have proven themselves incapable and unwilling to tackle the challenges we face. We need our NHS to be returned fully into public hands. It’s the greatest thing this country has ever created – we should be funding that, not the friends of the Conservative Party.