Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 24 July 2004

Prisoner and court security in Scotland

There has been a great deal of comment recently about the private security firm Reliance, which is now responsible for much involving the custody of prisoners and their movements to and from courts during trials within Scotland. Before these functions were 'contracted out' of the public service, it was the Police and Prison Service which assured these functions.

This latest story, about three prisoners having been left inadvertantly overnight (and perhaps for the weekend?) in court cells after the close of business, allegedly because of an oversight on the part of Reliance, really gives me no clearer understanding where responsibility for this lies (I deliberately avoid using the word 'blame').

It has been alleged, almost since they took over their duties, that Reliance is incompetent in performing what it is contracted to do and that things were much better in the days before it was contracted out. Perhaps this is so - I cannot say. Perhaps it is those who object, on principle, to services such as this being contracted out ('privatised', if you will) who are concocting scenarios to throw doubt on Reliance's abilities. It strikes me that it would be very easy for those functions still in the public service to make life awkward for an 'interloper' of whom they disapprove. At any rate, the reporting on this issue (whether from the media, or from the Scottish Executive) needs to go a whole lot further in examining what is really going on, rather than relying on reporting which is content to examine the matter only on the surface.

We hear little nowadays of how BT or telecoms in general, or BA or UK airlines in general (to name just two) were superior prior to privatisation of the state [quasi-]monopoly providers - because they most certainly were not. On the other hand there are continuing claims that the privatised railways are a 'shambles' compared to the situation under British Rail, when any dispassionate analysis reveals that things were pretty awful under British Rail, too, and there was precious little that could be done about it by the suffering public; exactly the same situation we still live with under the quasi-monopolist behemoth that is the National Health Service (NHS).

My instincts in the case of Reliance are that the company is probably reasonably competent, but is the victim of 'cussedness' on the part of the public services with which it must deal, who depserately want the policy of contracting out custody services to be reversed. But I cannot be sure - we really do need an independent examination of what is going on.

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