The poor folk of Cumbria have enough to deal with at the present time and the fact that Atos has the contract for providing the IT Services for decommissioning their local Sellafield nuclear plant is probably fairly well down the list of their concerns. But when the floods have subsided and some semblance of normality returns the one constant in their lives along with the rest of us is the relentless march of unaccountable Corporate interests.
Atos has a well-documented track record of public sector failures including the spectacular termination of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) contract for the Department of Work and Pensions and the failure of a critical UK Border Agency IT system. Considering one of the criteria for awarding public contracts such as this one for nuclear decommissioning contain elements such as technical capability and experience, the fact that contracts continue to get awarded to these companies is a mystery. Significantly, it is also a mystery to MPs as the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has been heavily critical of the Government in this report (see Section 2 from Page 9 onwards). The fact that nothing has changed is an indictment of our system of democracy.
Unbelievably, as bad as things are they are about to get a lot worse. Moving on from Atos, I want to focus on a US-based multinational corporation called Maximus who took over Atos’s disastrous WCA contract. To understand the greater threat which Maximus and many others pose it is necessary to briefly consider something called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (fortunately referred to by its acronym TTIP). Now in its final stages of completion the TTIP is a free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States which has the stated aim of promoting multilateral economic growth. It may well be the case that TTIP is unknown to you, largely because much of the negotiation is being conducted in secret well away from the media gaze. The TTIP is a monumental work and although there are numerous areas of concern (for a resume of the major ones, check out this Independent article ) I want to focus on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (itself shortened to ISDS). This allows for a multi-national Corporate to take a national government to court (a secret court to boot) over actions prejudicial to their investments! Leaving aside the obvious disastrous blow to democracy, where does Maximus come in?
When Maximus took over the £595 million (approx $860 million) WCA contract from Atos it had originally planned on making a profit of $140 million (thats YOUR money by the way). But, like Atos, Maximus too has missed targets and ended up making a $4 million LOSS on the contract to the fiscal year which ended in September 2015. As the Disability News Service (DNS) points out here, this led to a rapid 26% decline in share price. Maximus President Bruce Caswell makes it very clear to US investors that the problem lies in being unable to recruit enough doctors, meaning missed targets, no bonus payments and a reduction in billable consultations. As DNS reports, Caswell blames the UK Health system for competitive difficulties, citing a
very tight labour market in the United Kingdom and individuals have a lot of options, whether it’s to go to work for the National Health Service, whether it’s to practice in a general practice mode, a GP-type environment, or whether it’s to do additional work on other assessment-related contracts.
So here it is in clear terms. We know the TTIP already presents a danger to the NHS by forcing additional privatisation, but will Maximus take early advantage of the ISDS and sue the UK Government for running an anti-competitive health labour market? So it may be that along with an inability to get insurance for their homes the hard pressed Cumbrians may find that they are unable to get insurance for their health services, since just like the rest of us they will be unable to see a state-provided doctor.