Where Does Our Public Services Money Go?

Posted on October 5, 2020

I was watching something on the news last night that caught my attention. It was a piece about how the immigration system was failing everyone, including the asylum seekers. I must admit, my interest was apathetic until I saw a big sign at one of the centres with Serco written on it.

Serco are everywhere on government contracts and everywhere they seem to perform badly. You would think the government would find this unacceptable, but they keep giving Serco contracts. The most recent of course, being track and trace. This is labelled ‘NHS Track & Trace’ for reasons I will allow you to calculate.

Lost Tests

Serco lost 16,000 positive Covid tests last week. That means potentially 48,000 people have not been informed about being in contact with Covid19. We shouldn’t be surprised that Serco have cocked up yet again as they seem to do it regularly. To make sure they cocked this one up, they employed Dido Harding. Harding is the woman behind the spectacular TalkTalk data breach a few years back.

Some people may scratch their heads wondering how Harding got the Serco gig. Being the wife of Conservative MP, John Penrose (an advocate of the privatisation of the NHS) may have helped but that’s just Bermuda Triangle stuff. Serco is the most high-profile example of public services contracts being handed out to friends, family, and donors of the Conservative Party. there are many more.

It was never supposed to be this way. The ideology behind selling off public services contracts was to make them more professional. This would be achieved by handing them to experts in their chosen field. This, we were told, would make better use of taxpayer’s money, rather than it being frittered away by uninspiring civil servants low on skill and ambition.

I worked in the Civil Service before privatisation became all the rage. The pay was poor, incentives were non-existent, and ambition was low. It was a dull existence and for that two-year period in my life, my days were spent looking busy when I had to.

Underfunded Public Services

Public services were run down and underfunded (this was the 1980’s) and the staff would, understandably, do just enough to justify their existence. It is only now that I realise that this was, quite possibly, a convenient plan to run down moral and justify privatisation. Serco Test & Trace is just one example of what would have once been a Civil Service/NHS project.

Surely Test & Trace could have all been done in house with proper wages, training, and a modern working environment. Executives would have structured Civil Service salaries and would be answerable to the public if a service failed in the way Serco Test & Trace has. There would be no dividend payments for failure.

What we all need to do, is rid ourselves of the perception that countries like Italy, Turkey and Russia are the corrupt ones, and we are morally upstanding. We need to realise that our taxes are going to a government who, in turn, are handing projects to their friends, families, and donors. We need to ask why?

Private companies have the opportunity to take public money and hand themselves huge salaries and dividends. To add salt into the wound, they often make a mess of the projects they are given. Some projects have been handed out without tender. Some have even been bailed out when failing to deliver. It’s public money.


There will be some people in government who genuinely believed privatisation of public services was cost effective. There will be instances where, if the tender process is wholly independent, private companies running public services might well be necessary and more cost effective.

However, as it stands, the privatisation of public services is riddled with dubious activity when it comes to awarding projects. As tax payers we need more scrutiny and questions asked when projects are failing or offered without tender.

After all, we are the ones paying for it.

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