The Government should come clean over the huge public service contracts they have with private companies, including those to house hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees in Stockton and thousands more across the country.
Stockton North Labour MP Alex Cunningham says it is nigh on impossible to access details relating to much of what private companies are up to with public money and action needs to be taken to tackle this lack of transparency around contracts to deliver services to some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Alex is angry that the Government is relying on the private companies to provide services to asylum seekers whilst at the same time failing to fund the vital support they need, where they need it. After learning recently that the number of asylum seekers placed in his constituency reached the highest level since records began in 2003, the Stockton North MP submitted a series of Written Parliamentary Questions to the Home Office to uncover the costs associated with this increase.
“I wanted to know just how much money was disappearing into private companies’ coffers at the same time as support services were being closed down on Teesside forcing needy people to travel 40 miles to get the help they need,” he said.
But he drew a blank with the Minister of State for Immigration and Security who told him the costs associated with the Government’s contract with G4S to provide accommodation in the Stockton Borough are not available for disclosure as they are deemed to be commercially sensitive.
And it isn’t just the cost of services for asylum seekers that are secret. Billions of pounds are being entrusted to companies with limited experience of service provision yet no-one – neither MPs nor the general public – are entitled to know what happens to the money, including what actually goes on services and what lines the pockets of private company executives.
Alex said: “The lack of transparency is a disgrace, with private sector companies responsible for delivering public services being able to hide behind a cloak of commercial confidentiality.
“Yet these same companies are free to exploit the benefits of gaining detailed knowledge of successful public sector bodies through the submission of Freedom of Information requests, leaving them capable of deploying this knowledge to undercut and imitate public sector bodies.
“It is essential that spending is properly evaluated to ensure best value and that service providers are held fully to account for their actions. But this key principle of our democracy – granting taxpayers access to the information to do this thoroughly and rigorously – continues to be overlooked, and action is needed to correct this anomaly.”