The Tories are renationalising a failing private service. Unfortunately it’s not test and trace.

Test and Trace Matt Hancock and the Serco logo
Steve Topple

The Tories are renationalising a failing private service. It shows that where the government has the will, it can operate public services. Sadly, it’s not the coronavirus (Covid-19) test and trace system, although it needs to be. Because one company behind the test and trace fiasco has previously been fined for its handling of private contracts.

Tory renationalisation. Yes. You read that right.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw tweeted that the Tories are going to renationalise the probation service. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will complete this by June 2021. People were giving evidence about it to the Justice Committee:


Some of the witnesses at the committee’s meeting had concerns about the timescale:

One was quite sceptical:

Probation chaos

The story isn’t new. The Guardian has documented the probation service’s move back into public hands. In 2019, the government said 80% of it would be renationalised. But in June this year, the government changed course. It is now planning to move 100% of the service back into government control. This comes against a backdrop of chaos in the service. The Guardian reported that it was former justice secretary Chris Grayling that signed off on the privatisation. But as it wrote:

Grayling ignored significant warnings from within his department to push through his reforms in 2014. MPs on the public accounts committee said the changes were rushed through at breakneck speed, taking “unacceptable risks” with taxpayers’ money. The justice committee described the overhaul as a “mess” and warned it might never work.

Since the reforms were introduced, the government has had to bail out the private providers by more than half a billion pounds.

Moreover, Labour MP David Lammy previously said that:

Since the reforms reoffending rates have climbed up to 32%, that is members of the public, victims across the country, who have been subject to offenders and to crime that would not have been subject to the trauma that they were put through had this privatisation not been brought in in the first place.

Test and trace for a quick buck

Yet the government’s test and trace system has been equally dire. Little wonder, really. Because outsourcing giant Serco runs part of the service. Its contract is worth £108m. But that’s the same Serco that the government stripped of a probation service contract; it still got paid, though. The same Serco that the Serious Fraud Office fined for its appalling operation of that contract. And it’s the same Serco that now has its fingers in the coronavirus pie.

From Grayling’s original probation reforms to test and trace, it seems that privatisation is good when there’s a quick buck to be made. But whether private companies are up to the job or not is often a Tory after-thought. And eventually, when the service is on the brink of collapse, back to government control it goes. Just how well the probation service will operate in government hands remains to be seen. But it couldn’t get much worse. Could it?

Featured image via S.Hinakawa – Wikimedia, Number 10 – Flickr and Bnmgiles – Wikimedia

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