Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Business
8 October 2013updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

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

Should we have seen this coming?

By Douglas Blakey

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.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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?