This is a story that, when you cut off its head, grows another nine. It’s like the sodding Hydra.
It goes a long way back, at least as far as 1998. It’s possible some of my readers weren’t even born then. Some genius suggested that private companies could be given the power of arrest. This would be for non-payment of fines, and it’s a task that usually falls to officers of the courts. Court officials, yes, I can see that. Private companies? No, I’m really not keen at all. I’m very much opposed.
Let’s think about likely front runners here. Serco, anybody? This is an outfit that got fined £68.5M for fraud. They defrauded the British government, via the Ministry of Justice, by overcharging for tagging criminals. That’s quite a lot of dosh, isn’t it? Then in the infamous Paradise Papers, a very high profile law firm ran a risk assessment of Serco, and raised other concerns including abuse of detainees*, so they may not be the people to hand powers of arrest to. They concluded Serco to be a ‘high risk’ client with a ‘history of problems, failures, fatal errors, and overcharging.’ That would seem to put them out of the running, but no doubt some Toff is even now thinking about sweeping that under the carpet.
G4S. They’re big hitters too. Well, perhaps not. The MoJ has just given them the heave-ho from running HMP Birmingham, citing ‘appalling violence and squalor.’ Drug taking, drinking, vomit and blood in the corridors, you name it, inspectors pretty much found it. Just to hammer the last nail into the coffin lid (or it should), the inspectors arrived unannounced, and sadly had their cars torched in a ‘secure’ carparking area**. I wouldn’t trust them either with the power of arrest.
Sodexo? They got a royal bollocking last year when the Beeb revealed that prisoners had taken over Swaledale prison in Northumberland. Mind you, they’ll be in with a shout as they’re French, and the Toffs love flogging off bits of the UK to foreign companies.
Meanwhile cops are hiring hundreds of civilians to investigate pretty serious crimes, signing off contracts worth several millions of pounds. They blame government funding cuts, which sounds a bit counterintuitive.
On the subject of private companies with noses n the trough, operators of carparks asked the DVLA for the records of 1.48M vehicles in the first quarter of this accounting year. Given the average fine is in the region of 100 quid, that’s a lot of money. No wonder Greg Knight, MP for East Yorkshire, has introduced a private member’s bill for the introduction of a code of conduct for private operators.
It won’t get off the ground though, will it? Not when the Commons and the Lords are jammed to the rafters with shareholders.
*And, bizarrely, mishandling nuclear waste.
**This in a week where a copshop somewhere had its carpark broken into and the cars had their tyres slashed. Cops were ‘too busy’ to intervene, which says a lot about staffing levels.