Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Joy of Serco (or why avoiding tendering exercises is a good thing)

So the sleeper service to London Will be run by SERCO. Now trains, as such, aren’t really a UNISON thing but this is worth looking at.

At face value Serco don’t seem the most obvious people to run a railroad. Certainly less obvious than the people they beat to the contract – Arriva and First.

But Serco do run lots and lots of other things IT contracts and prisons, and detention centres and catering and criminal tagging and air traffic control and pathology services and cleaning and so on and on and on. You may at this point be wondering what the common thread of Serco’s various very very profitable business is (well other than the overcharging landed them with a £68.5m fine.)
It’s winning public contracts.

That is Serco’s core business spotting where the public sector is making money available and putting as much of it as possible in their shareholders pockets. Now there is a mountain of evidence that outsourcing is bad news so we needn’t detain ourselves with it here.

What should concern us is the culture of outsourcing. This is the sea in which Serco (and G4S etc) swim and there is no sign of that being drained any time soon. European directives, policy preferences and legislation are all combining in a manner that tends towards services increasingly being increasingly put out to tender.

The next manifestation of this in Scottish terms will be the Integration of Health and Social Care. We are in the early days of this process, which has been the source of much hopeful encouragement and expectation from the voluntary sector. It’s not too cynical to suggest that they should be careful what they wish for. Once services go out to contract they can be outsourced to anyone. Third sector bodies may well be expert in their expert in their particular client group. But hey – First and Arriva know a lot about trains, and it didn’t seem to help them.

Putting tenders together is certainly something that the Third sector does, but it’s not their core purpose. It is for Serco. Putting it slightly differently. If you were a betting person who would you back as likely to have the smartest team of contract lawyers... a local(or even national charity) or a multinational firm that derives almost all of its earnings from winning tendering exercises.

Commissioning care isn’t like buying paper clips, or even running a railroad, It’s about the well being of real human beings – and it should be delivered by organisations who see their clients as people not profit centres. Guarding against the Serco’s of this world should be high on the agenda of everyone involved in developing care integration.


  1. They've fallen well short of care standards before yet keep being awarded contracts that should stay in the public sector. Rewarded for failure. Disgraceful.

  2. Anonymous9:08 am

    Exactly the sort of sentiments that landed this country with the problems it has in public services. The facts tell a very different story...'European directives, policy preferences and legislation are all combining in a manner that tends towards services increasingly being increasingly put out to tender.' - There is good evidence and reason why numerous Governments are on the same page.

    1. Anonymous12:35 pm

      ... and that good reason is to line the pockets of private companies with public money.