Since Jeremy Corbyn announced his plans to diversify the UK’s media, journalists have been squabbling over whether they’re all private school rich kids. Yet Corbyn’s hugely significant proposal to extend Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to private companies offering public services isn’t getting the attention it deserves.
Freedom of Information
public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
However, the government’s continued commitment to outsourcing key public services to private companies means FOIs don’t go far enough.
Outsourcing public services to private companies has had disastrous consequences. The collapse of Carillion cost tax payers an estimated £148m, with thousands of jobs lost. The Ministry of Justice recently had to seize control of a Birmingham prison from G4S due to “squalor” like conditions. And as the Observer reported earlier this year:
The Treasury has calculated that PFI contracts will have cost the state more than £300bn by the time they are paid off – five times the value of the original assets involved.
Why does it continue?
It’s clear that outsourcing key services is both expensive and volatile, so why is the practice continuing? In the wake of the collapse of Carillion, the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee stated that outsourcing is:
an aggressive approach to risk transfer.
This relates to both the financial risk of bidders undercutting each other for contracts and the transfer of the risk of accountability.
The fact that private companies delivering public services are not subject to FOIs means it’s very difficult to scrutinise key contracts and actions. They act like a frosted window, making it nearly impossible to see what’s going on inside.
Therefore, Corbyn’s plan to extend the reach of FOIs could be hugely significant. Leaks from major private companies have revealed a sordid culture of profits before anything else. For example, a former employee of Independent Assessment Services, formerly known as Atos, revealed to the Mirror that employees were offered bonuses for getting through disability assessments quickly.
If people could access this kind of information legitimately through FOIs, it has the potential to be the final nail in the coffin for outsourcing. The attraction of the frosted window would disappear. Government would no longer see the policy as an effective shield, and private companies would be terrified of the potential reputational damage. That Atos changed its name to Independent Assessment Services after being linked with “Atos Kills” banners shows how important reputation is.
Smash the frosted window
Outsourcing has decimated key public services and cost the tax payer billions of pounds. Corbyn’s proposal could finally smash the comfort of the frosted window, leaving the reality open to everyone.
It’s time for the media to stop squabbling among themselves and give this proposal the attention it deserves.
– Join The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.
Featured image via BBCNews/YouTube.
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.