Speaker by Various Artists

20

The problem is Serco

by John Palethorpe

They were, until a few months ago, the biggest company you’d never heard of. Well, that’s not entirely true. In New Zealand, Serco are not a big company. They have two public sector contracts, just two. Unfortunately, you already know about those two contracts. Because they’re in New Zealand’s prisons.

It would be nice to say that this was a unique set of circumstances, that the fact that Mt Eden Corrections Facility is a remand prison meant that there were always going to be problems. I say that because that is exactly what the Minister for Corrections said when he was challenged on the rates of violence at Mt Eden on TV3’s The Nation. That was in May, before the Fight Club allegations had surfaced.

It would also be nice to dismiss Serco overcharging the UK Government by NZD $164,776,181 for tagging ex-offenders who had either returned to prison, left the country or were dead. As well as their chronic mismanagement of Fiona Stanley Hospital in Australia. Not to mention forgetting that Serco only managed to make a profit in 2014 from the lucrative nature of their contracts with the Australian Government and their deeply awful refugee policy. Actually, no, it wouldn’t.

The Department of Corrections is currently investigating the fight clubs, arrests of prisoners for managing a meth ring, the guards offering ‘sparring tips’, and much more. What was supposed to take a month is now going to take four, with Phase 1 reporting October 30th and Phase 2 on November 30th. If you’re seeking the way to minimise the impact of what is clearly a catastrophic systemic failure, punting that far down the line and breaking up the report is definitely one way of doing it.

But basically, it’s just not thorough enough. Prison officers don’t have faith in Corrections to conduct their investigation with integrity. Ex-inmates fear speaking out, in case of retribution if they end up back inside. And while Serco have mismanaged Mt Eden, surely some questions need to be put to Corrections and the Minister for Corrections about exactly why they needed leaked videos on YouTube to let them know one of their prisons was failing?

And boy have they failed. They failed in the UK, they failed in Australia and they’ve failed here. But the investigation isn’t focusing on the systemic problems caused by a company who slash staff numbers to make a profit. It’s not recognising the tragic history of Serco involvement in overseas public services. The problem isn’t fight clubs, it’s not prisoners. It’s Serco.

What’s needed is an independent inquiry. Labour’s Kelvin Davis has called for one as this whole mess unfolded. David Clendon of NZ Greens has also called for their contract to be cancelled. The idea of an independent investigation is supported by the Howard League For Penal Reform, the Corrections Association of New Zealand and the PSA. Because unlike many, many other countries New Zealand lacks a truly independent inspectorate of prisons. Say No To Serco Aotearoa is joining the politicians and the unions in calling for an independent inquiry.

Despite all the failures, Serco will continue to make money from Mt Eden. Because their contract ensures they will. The fines that Sam Lotu-Iiga has talked about aren’t fines, they’re just not paying them their performance bonuses. Bonuses which make up 10% of the contract. The other 90% is, contractually, untouchable.

There’s obviously more to do here. In New Zealand Serco are not a big company. Sure, they have a $300,000,000 contract for Mt Eden. Yes, they’re expecting $30,000,000 a year in profit from South Auckland Wiri prison. But that’s just two contracts. With social impact bonds and social housing up for privatisation in the future, you can bet Serco will express an interest.

Why? Because that’s what they do. Serco don’t stop just because they’ve been a catastrophic failure in one part of the public sector. They’re dedicated, it seems, to making a profit while failing to deliver lots of different public services. Right now, we’re in a good position to ensure that Serco don’t make a first class profit, while New Zealand gets second class services.

So, while we’re asking for an independent inquiry into the Mt Eden fiasco, we’re also demanding a moratorium on Serco being considered for any further public sector contracts. It makes sense. Why would you give them a second chance in New Zealand, when the number of chances and failures globally far exceed that number?

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With help from the wonderful ActionStation, we’ve started a petition calling for an independent inquiry and a moratorium on Serco bids for New Zealand’s public services. You can sign up, here. Our campaign is in its early stages, and your support is vital You can find us on Facebook here, or track the hashtag #NoToSerco on twitter.

Thanks,

John Palethorpe

No To Serco Aotearoa

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