G4S tagging scandal: another failure of privatisation

Eric Segal

The 1842 book by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, ‘Dead Souls’, tells the tale of a con man who sets out to trick increasingly impoverished Russian aristocratic landowners into selling him dead serfs, or ‘souls’ whose names still appeared on the census list.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds remarkably similar to the developing G4S and Serco scandal.

It has been revealed that successive governments were potentially charged for tagging criminals who were imprisoned, had finished their sentence or had died.


Successive governments have handed public services, including parts of local authority services, police and justice, health and welfare and defence, over to their mates in multinational companies such as Mitie, Capita, G4S, Circle, Atos and Serco in huge contracts worth billions of pounds, accounting for around 6% of gross domestic product and employing 1.2 million people.

This represents a huge shift from state-run public services for the community and has been accompanied by an increased use of zero-hour contracts, low pay and worsening terms and conditions for workers thus creating huge profits for the bosses in the private sector.

The privatisation of public services has been a major disaster for the victims of this lust for profits, young and old, the poor (working or otherwise), disabled, sick, and the vulnerable.

For example the Serco-run out of hours GP service in Cornwall left one in five of its calls abandoned, the G4S Olympics security debacle, the recent inquest decision that an Angolan asylum seeker had been unlawfully killed by G4S guards and the ongoing chaos of the Atos disability benefits assessments.


The latest scandal is over whether G4S and Serco have overcharged in contracts to run the electronic ‘tagging’ of criminals as far back as 1999, when tagging began in England and Wales. Since then the taxpayer has spent £1 billion on tagging and monitoring offenders.

In some cases it appears that incompetent and unaccountable private contractors charged the government years after tagging had stopped and some cases included being charged for tagging dead people.

Serco has agreed to allow an investigation of its tagging operation but G4S has refused to cooperate and so has been referred to the serious fraud office.

How can Labour offer no opposition other than a weak call from the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, calling for an inquiry? Calls for further investigation must be linked to a call for an end to the privatisation of all public services through generalised action from the leaders of the trade unions who represent workers in outsourced public services.

The bosses of these companies must be charged with fraud. The forensic audits of Serco and G4S contracts must be opened up to public scrutiny and their contracts returned to the public sector but under democratic working class control and management.

This scandal must herald the end of the privatisation of our public services as did Gogol’s book herald the beginning of the end of serfdom in pre-revolutionary Russia.