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The danger of letting our policing fall into private hands


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In an article in last weekend's Financial Times it was revealed that the UK Government is currently embarking on a £4bn tendering process for public sector services. The biggest services being transferred into the hands of private business include health care, defence and (most concerning of all) policing.

Most people will not be familiar with the name David-Taylor Smith but many will have come into contact with the organisation that he heads up across the UK and Africa. The organisation in question is the private security firm G4S which has over 600,000 staff and operates in 125 countries. This summer G4S are providing security for the Olympic Games and have recruited 10,000 staff to work for them during the period. Ensuring the security of both the public and the athletes during the summer's festivities is a major test for the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Many spectators will not be particularly concerned as to who is responsible frisking them down as they enter the Olympic Park in Stratford. But we should be concerned as to who is getting to have such powers over the public. G4S are already receiving various contracts from police forces across England to provide key services such as operating police station cells and overseeing emergency call centres. Most recently the firm received a £200m contract from Lincolnshire Constabulary to build and operate a police station that will see over 500 jobs being moved from the public sector to the organisation.

One of the many benefits to having the policing in the hands of the public sector is that is provides accountability that no private company can match. The policing across the UK varies depending on the area in which you live but on average they do a very good job and we certainly get value for our money. There are of course the constant grumblings from organisations such as the Tax Payers Alliance that suggest our policing is full of bureaucratic 'pen-pushers' who do very little to tackle crime on our streets. In recent times under New Labour and under the current coalition there is a culture of target setting as a measure of efficiency within the public sector.

In a statement, Taylor-Smith commented that he believed within five years much of the policing in the UK will be carried out by private firms such as G4S. This should cause grave concern to anyone who believes that the lethal cocktail of crime and money making should never be concocted when it comes to front line policing.

We have already seen many of our prison services being contracted out to firms such as Sodexo Justice Services who provide various facilities to the UK's prison population. It is not just the justice system that is slowly being transferred into private ownership: under Andrew Lansley's NHS proposals many medical procedures will be carried out by non-government firms as a means to ensuring an effective national health system. Michael Gove is also responsible for setting up 'free schools' which are designed to continue the trend of squeezing the size of the state.

Of course privatisation is nothing new and was in fact speeded up under Blair, who introduced schemes such as PPP and allowing private firms to provide school meals to millions of pupils. Labour's days of being an advocate for state ownership were killed stone-dead under the leadership of Blair.

The myth that the public sector should look at its private counterpart in awe at the efficiency in which they operate is nothing more than a red herring. For this government it is not simply about making spending cuts it is about imposing an ideology where by any mass state ownership should be avoided at all costs.

While many of us vent our frustrations at government bodies such as HM Tax & Revenue when they cock-up due to an administrative error we have the ability to hold these bodies to account through our democratic structures. In stark contrast when we wish to vent such frustrations at a private firm there is no accountability at all. The only loyalty such firms have is to their share holders who naturally are only interested in making even bigger profits year on year.

If Mr Taylor-Smith's prediction does come true then we, the consumers of his security firm, will have very little power over the policing that we will have to live under. This is a very dangerous scenario that should be avoided at all costs.

The state may not know what's best when it comes to car manufacturing but it certainly does when it comes to safeguarding the protection of its citizens, who in turn are able to hold their government to account on the decisions it makes.

So if you are one of the thousands of spectators who will be descending on London during games, ask yourself when you are filing through the security checks, who would you rather have ensure your protection: a private firm only accountable to its shareholders or the police who are accountable to millions of voters across the UK?

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