Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Privatisation – steaming ahead?

Ray Jones argues in the Guardian that the privatisation of child protection in England is proceeding a pace, ‘under the radar’ and without any effective opposition.

He provides some very sound arguments against privatisation, not the least of which is that some of the private companies which appear to be showing interest in tendering appear to know very little about children or about how to protect them.

Ray does not mention one of my main concerns. That is that outsourcing contracts are notoriously difficult to draw-up and enforce, even for relatively simple services. It seems to me that local authorities might have very little control of the nature or quality of complex child protection services under an outsourcing contract, which is likely to be peppered with exception clauses, inserted by the private company’s highly paid lawyers.

He does, however, make the excellent point that the effect of outsourcing contracts in other areas of activity has often been to fix the service in time, with the consequence that innovation is stifled.

The reluctance of opposition politicians and many parts of the children’s services establishment to challenge the movement towards privatisation is very worrying. Privatisation of child protection is a ghost policy. It is like a ghostly ship emerging from a fog. Nobody is sure where it came from and nobody is sure where it is going. Nobody is sure who is standing on the bridge or pacing the decks. Nobody knows its course or how to influence it.

It is the worst kind of covert policy; not assessed, not discussed, not tested, not coherent, not likely to be effective, not wanted. It is a sad distraction from the real issues.