The collapse of Carillion has rightly brought the issue of privatisation back to our news-stands and led many of us to ask, ‘is private ownership always best?’
Well in Canterbury, the City Council seems to think so, as vital council services are scheduled to be sold off by the Conservative administration this year. From the 1st of February calls to the council about council tax administration, housing benefit, debt recovery and its customer services division will no longer be run be answered by public servant but employees of the Civica, a private company owned by a Swiss based private equity firm.
Until recently these services, along with back office systems including IT and HR were run by East Kent Services, a body set up and managed by Canterbury, Dover and Thanet Councils in 2012. Working together the three councils saved over their rate payers over £6m but last year they each decided that privatising their most high profile services was the only way of making up to £500,000 of services.
Call me cynical but I feel the privatisation of public services just provides a structure for big companies to keep some of your tax rather than have it spent on the services you though you paid it for. These businesses are in it for their own gain and as the public opinion about privatisation perhaps begins to shift, we are now all stuck in a seven year contract which sees private firms embed themselves in Council Offices whilst also on the looking out for new “business opportunities”.
Of course not all of out privatised services in Canterbury prove that the market is more effective than the public sector. This week Canterbury City Council have to face up to their decision to appoint Serco as their failing waste collection contractor.
Serco have told them they are struggling to make the contract pay and are asking for £140K from taxpayers as a bail out so it can move just a little closer to delivering the service it is contracted to provide.
No doubt that payment will leave a bit for the shareholders too.