Mark Leftly: It’s the other side of the world and still Serco casts a shadow


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The Independent Online

Westminster Outlook I write this from Sydney, as part of the press pack trailing our Prime Minister on a three- city tour of eastern Australia. Given the hype, it’s easy to think that the G20 is currently to Australia what the Olympics was to us only a couple of years ago.

Yet Shaun, a barman in what claims to be Sydney’s oldest pub, the 186-year-old Fortune of War, says there has been pretty much zero interest among his regulars.

But his eyes perk up at the mention of Serco.

The outsourcing giant has been subject to relentless criticism in the UK since last summer, when it was found to have charged taxpayers for tagging non-existent offenders as part of a Ministry of Justice contract. The chief executive, Rupert Soames, wrote down the value of the business by £1.5bn earlier this week, with 2014 profits set to be about £20m lower than previously expected.

The crisis would be even worse if it weren’t for Australia, where Serco is making substantial profits on running asylum-seeker centres. As with Serco’s work in the UK, such as the management of the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, there have been allegations of dreadful conditions.

We moan and moan about Serco and other outsourcers and still we hand them these incredibly sensitive, naturally uncommercial deals – and it’s not just us in Britain.

Shaun has it right when he points out: “Me? I’m pissed off at ourselves for giving them the contracts.”

Governing parties on either side of the globe, as well as those of us who voted for them, must accept their share of the blame for the failures of outsourcing.