Mark Leftly: Putting PwC on Serco's case adds another stink to a very smelly situation

Outlook That accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is investigating Serco on behalf of the Ministry of Justice is "hilarious", according to a source close to Whitehall. It's certainly a joke, but one which Serco can't be finding very funny and would be too far-fetched to be included in an episode of The Thick of It or Yes, Prime Minister.

Serco deserves the lumps it is getting for its disastrous mishandling of Ministry of Justice contracts. These disasters have led to the FTSE 100 giant being frozen out from being awarded any new government work until it can prove it has gone through a process of "corporate renewal", whatever that means.

This started off last month with allegations that Serco and G4S had overcharged the taxpayer by as much as £50m after assigning electronic tags to the dead or offenders back in custody. The investigation that followed this week unearthed that Serco staff had kept irregular records – read: possible fraud – in its prisoner-escorting contract.

And let's not forget the little matter from earlier this year of a fine for an explosion at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, one of the many parts of the public sector that Serco runs nowadays.

Serco is no position to complain, but PwC shouldn't be running the forensic audit of Serco's Ministry of Justice contracts. Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, has accused the civil service of operating in "silos" and this is a devastating example of that claim.

PwC is Serco's opponent on one of the biggest, most controversial outsourcing deals this country has ever seen. The accountant is in the rival consortium bidding to run the £14bn-budget Ministry of Defence agency that buys the armed forces' missiles, stealth aircraft and tanks.

We've written extensively about the conflicts of interest that are causing chaos with this quasi-privatisation of Defence Equipment & Support, so I won't bore you about the future of the guns 'n ammo agency yet again.

However, it cannot be right that Serco's rival is assessing the group's contracts in a rival department, a move which could potentially give the accountant a commercial edge. The source laughs that "at least we know that PwC will get stuck into Serco".

PwC would surely have done that whether it was a rival or not, but this does give an impression that the accountant has an added imperative to sock Serco.

This isn't a suggestion that PwC has done anything wrong: if a firm is offered high-profile work it would be silly to assume that it wouldn't grab it with both hands. Rather, this shows just how poorly government continues to handle situations that involve big business.

Justice minister Chris Grayling could have chosen any of the other members of accountancy's "big four" to examine Serco's contracts, while the mid-tier firms of that sector, like Grant Thornton and BDO, are surely well-enough equipped to undertake a forensic audit.

The suspicion is that the Justice ministry simply didn't think about Serco's and PwC's work in other departments and any potential conflicts that could arise from the investigation.

That is a failure, then, of government and adds an extra stink to a very smelly situation.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all faied
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?