In an era when everyone claims to believe in open government, it is interesting that the Steering Group pushing through the privatisation of Bradford LEA meets behind closed doors and refuses to publish its minutes. Ground-breaking decisions that will affect not just Bradford but the pattern of public education throughout Britain are being made in secret, by representatives of the DfEE, 2 headteachers, one Councillor and two Council officials, advised and supported by Price Waterhouse Coopers, a leading firm of accountants, on the Government’s list of would-be deliverers of public services.
In truth, it is not hard to see why things are done secretly. Once we get beyond the argument that "anything must be better than what we’ve got now", the current determination to proceed down the privatisation path in Bradford is too bizarre to stand up to public scrutiny.
OFSTED made criticisms of the LEA: some fair; some not. The LEA has subsequently produced an action plan, brought in outside help, and made changes in its structure and practices to address the criticisms. After this has been done, a private company is to be brought in to run things. Its target will then be to raise Bradford from the bottom 5% of LEAs in terms of pupil results to the national average within 5 years. Politicians are willing to commit to some increase in spending to achieve this, but not even to the level currently recommended by the Government (which is met by most other LEAs).
Viewed in this context, privatisation is at best a crackpot panacea that should appeal only to the gullible. At worst, it is a cynical ducking of responsibilities, the creation of an opportunity to say "nothing to do with me Guv" when the targets are not met.
No company currently has the expertise to do such a job. All of our experience leads us to believe that the companies interested do not even understand what such a job entails. Bradford has shortlisted 4 bidders.
This company operates a network of private schools across the country. Pay and conditions are in our experience worse than in state schools. It got the contract to deliver some LEA services in Hackney nearly 2 years ago. Its performance has subsequently been savaged by OFSTED. In March 2000 an employment Tribunal found that Nord Anglia’s Chief Executive, Kevin McNeany, had instigated and encouraged race discrimination. An appeal is pending.
No background in education in this country. It does, however, have contracts for prisons, young offenders institutions, a hospital, the Docklands Light Railway, and is bidding for the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. It has close links with the defence industry. Willing to "outsource" most things. A recent bid for Haringey LEA was found unsatisfactory.
Behind this name is another one you may have heard of. Group 4 owns a 50% stake in the company, the rest being held by another company, Tribal, set up in 1999 specifically to bid for "outsourced" contracts. Group 4 has public sector contracts for cleaning, security, prisons, detention centres for refugees etc.. Its bid for Haringey LEA was recently rejected.
Another specialist outsourcer. Its best known connection with education is as a supply agency. When it took over Capstan, it cut supply rates by £13 a day. In 1998/99, the Local Government Ombudsman received 296 complaints about Capita’s administration of housing benefits in Lambeth. "When I met the Council and its contractor in April 1999, I was told they were convinced that there would be a major reduction in the number of justified complaints over the next 12 months." In fact complaints rose to 584 in 1999/2000. "In 1999/2000 I accepted 319 local settlements of Lambeth Housing Benefits complaints and issued 12 formal reports of maladministration causing injustice."
To smooth the path of these white knights, we are currently being pressed to agree easier arrangements for the redundancy of school-based staff.
A charitable question to ask the Council would be "What have you got us into?"
A pertinent one would be "When is this nonsense going to be stopped?"
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