How politically independent is the "independent think tank" Reform, which claims that profit-driven private companies are better at running prisons than the public sector and that all jails should face privatisation?
About as independent as you'd expect from an organisation set up 12 years ago by Nick Herbert, the current Tory MP for Arundel, and Andrew Haldenby from the Conservative Research Department.
The organisation calls itself independent and non-partisan and explains its aims as setting out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity via private sector involvement and market deregulation.
This noble work is supported by generous financial donations from the General Healthcare Group, GlaxoSmithKline and "professional services company" KPMG, which advises the private sector on "tax efficiency" - in short, tax dodging.
Public services, especially the NHS, state education and our prisons, represent a significant target area for private companies on the lookout for profits to be gleaned from the taxpayer.
So Reform recommends that the private sector should not be restricted to small-scale contracts in state-owned prisons such as maintenance, resettlement and catering but should run the entire show.
Reform researcher Will Tanner, who asserts in his report The case for private prisons that private is superior to public in running prisons, claims that "a greater role for the private sector will advance the 'rehabilitation revolution' which ministers want to deliver."
Not surprisingly, Reform advocates an end to national pay bargaining in the Prison Service, devolving pay and conditions to prison governors.
National negotiations are a bugbear for the privatisation lobby throughout the public service, from education to local government and the Civil Service.
The privateers anticipate driving down general standards of pay and conditions through fragmentation, which would undermine the crucial role of public service trade unions.
Despite Reform's bald claim of private-sector superiority, the fact that Justice Secretary Chris Grayling called a halt last year to wholesale privatisation tells a different story.
Tanner spews out a snowstorm of contentious statistics that, in his view, back his claim that the private sector does it better, but he is stumped by the fact that, in the key area of "public protection," the privateers come up short.
If the basic justification for the Prison Service is not public protection, what is it?
In any case, as Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon points out, "it is almost impossible to compare the performance and reoffending rates of one establishment with another, partly because prisons hold different categories of offenders and also because prisoners often serve their sentences in a number of different jails."
She refers to the issues surrounding public protection, noting that private prisons are generally more overcrowded and less safe than their public counterparts.
How could it be otherwise when the private operators are very often the same conglomerates that have become a byword for making a dog's breakfast of other interventions into the public sector?
The problem with ideologues masquerading as researchers into aspects of public life is that their minds are already made up.
For Reform the conclusion is, and will invariably be, that having public services to meet particular needs and employing staff on the basis of nationally negotiated terms and conditions will always be the wrong answer.
Privatisation was adopted as a cure-all by all major parliamentary parties when neoliberalism was the only show in town. It's time to move on.
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