Politics 23 August 2013 Outsourcing, the exploitation of prisoners and my Twitter ruck with G4S Hang on. If G4S aren't employing prisoners at £5 a day in order to boost their profits - then who is? Print HTML To Twitter, then, for an entertaining spat: something of an occupational hazard for a New Statesman writer these days. Said spat wasn't, for a pleasing change, the subject of my privilege and platform. I was bemoaning the furious assaults I have suffered from a "certain strand" of Twitter users over this issue to my valet only the other day. Suffice to say his advice - go and write for a proper publication like the Telegraph or Spectator because their writers receive far less grief from the unwashed internet masses - nearly made me choke on my swan. Everyone knows socialists have the best champagne. Anyway, I was struck by a discussion between Nicola Savage, Head of Press for G4S, and Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Ms Crook was outraged by a story that appeared in this week's Daily Mail. If I may quote from Mr Dacre's excellent organ: Prisoners are earning £20 a week phoning householders and quizzing them about their valuables. Burglars and other criminals are asking unsuspecting families if they would like to save money on their home insurance. The inmates get paid to read from a script which includes asking potential customers their names and postcodes. They also inquire about the total value of their possessions – including details of any worth large sums. Golly. As Ms Crook put it: Prisoners should be employed on work repatriated from exploitation not as cheap labour to enhance G4S profits http://t.co/TDHimYnmQR — Frances Crook (@francescrook) August 21, 2013 Ms Savage responded: @francescrook we believe it's better to prepare prisoners for life on release and so help to keep them from reoffending. Do you agree? — Nicola Savage (@NickySavageG4S) August 21, 2013 This went on for a while. I, separately, provided a link to the discussion, which was spotted by Ms Savage, who corrected me on a crucial detail. Amazing thread. The fact G4S get incredibly cheap labour is just a happy side-effect. https://t.co/sMHIMxIc9C — Alan White (@aljwhite) August 21, 2013 @aljwhite we make no money on this. Reoffending costs £12.5bn a year. Prisoners often leave prison without any realistic prospect of work — Nicola Savage (@NickySavageG4S) August 21, 2013 @aljwhite Perhaps you'd like to retract that publicly? NS — Nicola Savage (@NickySavageG4S) August 21, 2013 And lo. Alan was in the soup, without a paddle. There was nothing to do but beat a hasty retreat. Except - hang on. If G4S aren't employing prisoners at £5 a day in order to boost their profits - then who is? The news reports cited "insurance companies" (Ms Savage would later clarify that it's a "consumer lifestyle survey", whatever that is, too), but didn't name them. Who are they? I asked a question to which I already knew the answer: .@NickySavageG4S Can I assume you're unable to name the insurance companies for whom they're working because of commercial confidentiality? — Alan White (@aljwhite) August 21, 2013 You'll note the perhaps overly aggressive use of the ".@" there: in my frayed mental state I had broken one of my esteemed editor's rules of Twitter. On such issues she is as Debrett's. I fear she will be gently upbraiding me in Beach Blanket Babylon this evening. Needless to say: the silence from Ms Savage was germane. Perhaps you feel this is a shameful exploitation of society's vulnerable to fill the pockets of greedy companies. Perhaps you feel it's a positive attempt to prepare our prisoners for the world of work. The point is that you should have a right to know which companies are making use of what's essentially a Government scheme, and commend, upbraid, boycott or whatever you feel is the appropriate response to them. But you can't. It's the outsourcing process in a nutshell. It lacks transparency, and that means it looks like it stinks, even if it doesn't. To the Garrick. Enjoy your weekend. › Behind the Wikipedia wars: what happened when Bradley Manning became Chelsea G4S. Photo: Getty Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture. Subscribe More Related articles How Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election How do I leave the Labour party? Will the Sugar Tax actually work?