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G4S still to deliver women’s services

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government contracts, taxpayer's money, human rightsDespite growing evidence of humans rights abuses, G4S are awarded contracts to run services to vulnerable women.

Why?

We can learn a lot about how G4S might run services in the women’s sector by looking at some of the findings of last week’s inquest into the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who died after being illegally restrained by three G4S officers while being deported to Angola.

The Guardian this week described the “reality of the murky private removals industry”, and the inquest revealed two of the G4S guards’ phones contained ‘extreme racist’ text messages.

We might turn our attention to how G4S and Serco used taxpayers’ money to monitor dead criminals under contracts for criminal tagging schemes, over-charging the UK government by up to £50 million by billing for offenders who were dead, back in custody or no longer in the UK.

And although Serco has agreed to the Government’s request for an audit of the contract, G4S has refused.

We could look at the Department of Work and Pensions’ Work Programme, contracted to firms like A4e.

Private Eye (No. 1344) recently revealed that “contractors receive around £400 simply for ‘attaching’ an unemployed person to the scheme before even finding them a job. Thus firms have been paid more than £400 million so far for failure.”

And commentating for The Independent, Jim Armitage concluded that “The profit motive will always dominate for such service providers.”

So why are private sector giants still getting work at the taxpayers’ expense?

This is a question increasingly being asked of government by small voluntary sector providers, including social enterprise Kazuri, frontline service for victims and survivors of violence Aurora New Dawn and the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG).

They are joined by independent commentators in Private Eye, Open Democracy and WVoN; and by a small number of MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and Keith Vaz.

This growing number of social justice campaigners represent a collective of Davids and Davinas increasingly working to take on the corporate Goliaths of G4S, Serco, and others.

Kazuri’s Farah Damji is leading a call for a public inquiry into the awarding and subsequent monitoring of public service contracts to corporate outsourcing giants.

This week, she submitted a Freedom of Information request to NHS England, asking, among other things, what assessment was made of G4S’s capacity, experience and capability of running SARC centres.

Damji believes it is vital to monitor existing contracts run by private sector giants.

“We’re calling into question the mechanism by which contracts of massive scale and value are let by authorities. This is public money and if it was you or I defrauding the public purse in this way, we’d be corresponding with the outside world at Her Majesty’s leisure.

“The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are as culpable for letting these contracts without suitable precautions in place.”

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling agreed, saying that “…it is not only the behaviour of the suppliers that needs to be examined closely…it is quite clear that the management of these contracts has been wholly inadequate.”

He then placed ‘on hold’ a contract for the management of prisons in Yorkshire, recently awarded to Serco – but announced the successful award of a similar contract in Northumberland to private company Sodexo.

In the meantime, the women’s sector holds its breath and waits to see how the G4S contract to run Sexual Assault Referral Centres might unfold in light of these recent allegations.

These cases – and others highlighted recently by WVoN, including the sexual harassment and forced evictions of female asylum seekers by G4S staff – perfectly exemplify the troubling trend of awarding public service contracts to private sector providers with no specialist expertise in the service areas they purport to deliver.

Commentators are left to wonder what advantage, other than low pricing – G4S senior managers recently admitted that many of their current contracts are ‘loss leaders’ as they prepare to expand their role in UK public services even further – G4S and other corporate providers can possibly offer.

How can big business compete with the longstanding expertise, commitment and proven track record of service delivery displayed by voluntary sector organisations like Rape Crisis?

Recent G4S advertisements for a SARC manager said that “experience dealing with victims of sexual assault (is) an advantage”.

A similar advertisement for frontline crisis workers providing out-of-hours support to victims of rape and sexual assault offers payment of £12.50 an hour and again, mentions that experience of working with victims of sexual assault would be ‘advantageous’.

Many in the women’s voluntary sector might view it a necessity for a Sexual Assault Referral Centre managers and/or their team to have previous experience of working with victims of sexual assault and rape.

Instead, the growing body of evidence suggests that corporate providers are unable – and unwilling – to prioritise people over profit.

And as the Secretary of State makes a show of wringing his hands over individual contracts, the rest of us are left to wonder how much longer private sector giants will be allowed to profit from vulnerable women.

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