A major firm condemned by MPs over a recent NHS outsourcing “shambles” has been given a lucrative contract allowing private companies to arrest people for dodging court fines.
Ministers have been criticised over the decision to hand over the collection of court fines to four private companies, including Capita, a major outsourcing firm accused of putting patients at risk by delaying transfers of medical records.
The results of the tender process were quietly published in the rush before the MPs’ summer break, finalising plans to transfer services done by civilian enforcement officers, currently employed by HM Courts and Tribunal Services (HMCTS), to the private sector.
It comes as a damning report by the Public Accounts Committee said 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians were delayed from working with patients for up to six months and nearly 90 women were dropped from cervical screening programmes due to Capita’s botched delivery of backroom services for NHS England.
Capita has apologised for “unacceptable failings in relation to the initial delivery” of the contract.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has faced criticism in the past over the outsourcing of contracts to private security firms such as Serco and G4S, the latter of which won a multimillion contract for electronic tagging of offenders despite being investigated for overcharging the government for similar services.
And last week, it was revealed that private probation companies were being bailed out for the second time as ministers were forced to ditch “catastrophic” contracts two years early.
The outsourcing sector has also been under scrutiny since the collapse of construction giant Carillion in January.
Labour warned more people could be at risk of harm from “rogue private bailiffs” and accused the government of putting “private profits before the public interest”.
However an HMCTS spokesperson said the plans would save the taxpayer up to £46m over five years, which will be invested back into the justice system.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “This government continues to hand over lucrative contracts to a small handful of private providers despite repeated private sector failures across our justice system.
“This seems to be more about the Conservatives’ ideological fixation that the private sector is always right, rather than being about what works best for the public.
“Just as with the costly decision to privatise our probation services, the outsourcing of civil enforcement officers will see private profits put before the public interest.
“There is a real risk that the weakened oversight that accompanies privatisation will lead to more people becoming the victims of rogue private bailiffs. The government should scrap these plans.”
Former Lib Dem cabinet minister Sir Ed Davey echoed his calls, adding: “Just as one part of the Ministry of Justice ends the large parts of the privatised probation service for failure to deliver, a different part is privatising another arm of our justice system.
“Incoherent would be a kind description of this kind of chaos in this calamitous government.
“And to add salt into the wounds, ministers see fit to hand these new contracts to Capita despite serious concerns the company could have put patients at risk in the handling of a service contract with the NHS.”
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, the civil servants’ union, said his members would consider strike action over privatisation of the service, which has already faced “chronic underfunding”.
He added: “Our members believe profit should have no place in the justice system.
“This is doubly important when you consider civilian enforcement officers have arrest powers. Any contracting out would undermine the public service ethos that is vital to the role and administering justice.”
Contracts were given to Capita, Excel Civil Enforcement, Jacobs Enforcement and Outsourcing UK.
A spokesperson for HMCTS, the executive agency responsible for the contract, said: “Enforcement agents must adhere to a strict code of conduct and will continue to be overseen by HMCTS.
“These contracts will save taxpayers £46m over five years, every penny of which will be reinvested into the justice system. This includes improving services for victims and witnesses.”
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