G4S messes up again - this time with a privately run prison

Should we have seen this coming?

With a certain depressing predictability – remember the shambles of the Olympics security contract – it seems that G4S has made a right botch of running the UK's largest privately-run prison, HMP Oakwood.

A litany of appalling findings in a report from the chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick – high drug use, poor management, high levels of self-harm, failure to deal with disabled prisoners, very poor health provision – is summed up in the report as “unquestionably concerning". Concerning? Talk about a master of understatement.

The Ministry of Justice cannot say it was not warned about the risks in awarding a 15 year £750m contract to G4S to run the first publicly-run prison to be transferred to a private service provider. The Howard League, The Prison Reform Trust and The Prison Officers Association among others all raised concerns when the deal was announced in 2011.Unabashed, the then Justice Minister Ken Clarke said that competitive bidding to run prisons offered innovation, efficiency and better value for money “without compromising standards.” Shame about the last bit.

The latest annual report from G4S excitedly talks about government policy continuing to offer more and more scope for outsourcing of services such as rehabilitation, facilities management and other related services. “We are in a good position to bid for these contracts which are estimated to be worth around £1 billion per annum.” One trusts that G4S may be in a slightly less strong position to cash in on this outsourcing gravy train, at least until it can prove that it is sorting out the mess at HMP Oakwood.

The annual G4S annual report is a surprisingly entertaining read. Highlights include, hidden away on page 63, evidence of G4S real commitment towards prisoner welfare: a donation last year of the princely sum of £9,000. Not a mis-print: it really is £9,000. To be fair, it is more than double the £4,000 G4S donated to poverty relief.

As if the Olympics inbroglio never happened, the government continues to ramp up its largesse in favour of G4S. Last year, government contracts constituted 27 per cent of G4S total revenue. Organic growth in the UK Government sector was 13 per cent and G4S picked up a lengthy list of new deals.

In other botched privatisations – think of the East Coast Main Line – there was scope for the contract to be cancelled when things went awry, albeit National Express got off more lightly than ought to have been the case. Not to mention the egregious decision that it is permitted to continue to run rail services in Essex. Is it too much to hope for, if things do not improve radically and quickly at HMP Oakwood, that G4S will have the contract cancelled?

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism