Law and order privatisation to be extended

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS have been forced to massively increase their law and order privatisation programme, an internal Home Office memorandum reveals.

Modest privatisation plans are to be abandoned in favour of a radical scheme which will see a quadrupling in the number of Home Office jobs opened up to the commercial sector.

The change in policy came after William Waldegrave, the Citizen's Charter minister responsible for 'market testing', complained that the Home Office was not meeting privatisation objectives. Under the market testing proposals, in- house groups of civil servants and private contractors submit rival bids to run a Government service.

Home Office ministers had originally said last November that just 1,000 jobs should be put out to tender. Large areas of secretarial, administrative and computer work which involved access to classified information were ruled out.

But the memorandum shows that the national security arguments used to justify the 1,000 figure have been rejected.

It says Mr Waldegrave had reviewed the market testing plans of all government departments at a Prime Ministerial seminar on 19 June and concluded that 'while some (departments) had put forward good market testing propoals, most had some way still to go. In order to bring about the change envisaged some (market testing) programmes already submitted would have to be increased two or three fold.'

After Mr Waldegrave's criticisms, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, told his department's market testing unit to re-examine the role of its 40,000 employees. The unit, which has been given an annual budget of pounds 1.6m and 60 officials, has come back with a new list of about 2,500 posts to go out to tender.

It has told civil servants that it was aiming to see 4,000 posts market tested by the end of next year. Among these will almost certainly be a large number of prison jobs. Private companies are expected to be invited to tender for the management of all new jails.

Harry Fletcher, spokesman for nine Home Office unions which have combined into the Prisons are not for Profit Campaign, said: 'Market testing is not about efficiency or improving standards, it's about saving money.

'The civil service is being dismantled so the Government can cut taxes before the next general election. This list is not a one off but part of a rolling privatisation programme. By 1995, most Home Office jobs will have been market tested and an atmosphere of fear and insecurity will reign.'

Among the functions on the new market testing list are the Home Office support and record management services, the police national computer delivery unit, prison education, prison canteens, prison dog handlers and forensic science support services.

In some cases officials have seen tendering as a way to get rid of the 'unworkable' pet projects of ministers. The electronic tagging of offenders, which has failed in three pilot projects, will be offered to the private sector.