Taxpayers deserve a better deal from contractors

After the Olympic security debacle the security firm G4S, along with others, has further failed taxpayers by charging for criminal monitoring services they were not actively providing. G4S and Serco were given contracts in 2005 to electronically tag and monitor criminals. To date the Government has paid £700 million to firms for these contracts.

However Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has revealed up to £50 million of this amount may have been charged illegitimately for criminals who were either back in prison, had had their tags removed, had left the country and in some cases were actually dead. There are also cases of taxpayers picking up the bill for individuals who were returned to court yet had never been tagged in the first place.

Mr Grayling said the firms had been charging for keeping watch on prisoners released into the community when they “were not in fact providing electronic monitoring”. This is not only a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money; it also raises questions of whether criminals who should have been under supervision were allowed to wander unchecked. In some instances, charging continued for a period of many months and indeed years after active monitoring had ceased.

This is unacceptable and the Government must take all necessary steps to secure not only a refund for the taxpayer but also a proper account of what has happened so that further action can be taken. While Serco have agreed to a forensic audit, G4S has not, leading to the Justice Secretary calling on the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the firm. It’s vital that the full details in this debacle come to light. It’s not good enough for G4S just to pay back the wrongful charges and pretend that everything else can continue as normal. Were you to find out a mechanic had not only overcharged you but had not even undertaken any work on your car, it's not likely you would say, “It's OK, just pay me back for what you didn’t do”.

When a private firm fails to deliver on a public sector contract there must be consequences for that and these should be more than not being paid for work not done. They must be accountable for their mistakes and financial punishments must be in place to ensure taxpayers and service users are protected. A private contractor’s record of delivery must also be considered when bidding for future public contracts. We also need greater competition and transparency in bidding for these contacts if taxpayers are to gain an advantage from contracting out some services.

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