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Saturday, January 27, 2018

The opacity and lack of accountability around outsourced services

Reports in the Mirror that the Ministry of Justice has refused to publish an independent review it commissioned into prison maintenance early last year, millions of pounds of which was outsourced to Carillion, has underlined once more how unaccountable and opaque outsourcing contracts are.

The paper says that the review was carried out after prisons minister Sam Gyimah said he was "not impressed" by Carillion's maintenance work in September 2016 and the firm was sent a formal warning. Despite that row, the firm went on to win another £40million in Ministry of Justice contracts in 2017, before collapsing leaving 20,000 jobs in the balance.

This has obviously raised questions as to the process followed by the government and demands to see the review so that MPs can assess whether the Minister was misled or just incompetent. However, their request for the report, together with other reports on Carillion's effectiveness such as the "improvement plan", to be handed to the independent House of Commons Library have been refused because the material apparently contains commercially sensitive information.

This has been a problem since the previous Labour Government fully embraced outsourcing the delivery of public services to private companies. Whereas before the House of Commons could effectively scrutinise problems and recommend improvements, now they find themselves blocked by claims of commercial confidentiality. This is also happening in local government on a smaller scale.

We are getting to the point where outsourcing and privatisation are subverting the democratic process.  Proper accountability is being undermined by the unavailability of key information. As a result, when something goes wrong as with Carillion, the lessons are not learned and nobody is held responsible. That is no way for a democracy to operate.
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