Ed Miliband used his speech this morning on policing to attack the shambles on Olympic security staffing created by G4S. That was a sensible thing for an opposition leader to do, and he managed to give quite a sensible speech, all in all. He did not fall into the trap of saying that all outsourcing is bad – which would have been a strange thing for the Labour leader to say, anyway, given it was under his party in government that firms like G4S flourished. But he did point to what many across the political spectrum agree is a problem: that G4S effectively holds a monopoly on security and policing functions.
The value of private sector involvement is that firms compete against one another for contracts, and in doing so raise standards and lower prices in a way a monopoly held by the state as sole provider would not. But when G4S grew like the beanstalk into the only big private security firm in town, a new monopoly was created. Sure, it wasn’t a monopoly housed in a government building, but its effects were just as corrosive, and Miliband acknowledged that this lack of competition was as much the problem as any decision to outsource. He said: ‘The G4S scandal shows the risks of policing relying on one private firm. We need tougher rules to avoid large firms from being able to monopolise policing functions.’
Encouraging more competition into the policing sector will be a positive step, both for G4S, which will find itself competing on quality, and for the sector as a whole, which will have choice on big contracts. That won’t be the immediate concern for G4S, though: the Public Accounts Committee’s stinging report on the preparation for the games expresses concerns that ‘G4S will still receive substantial sums of public money without providing the contracted number of guards’. The committee argues that G4S must not only cover the additional costs for the government, but also incur financial penalties for its failure to deliver. ‘We will return to this matter as a priority after the games,’ says the report ominously.Tags: Ed Miliband, Police, UK politics