byline times

Outsourcing Giant G4S Claims £10M Government Coronavirus Support Despite £187M Profit
Sam Bright, Byline Times, Aug 13 2020

The London-based global outsourcing firm G4S, that records annual revenue of roughly £7.5b, has taken £10m in UK Government Coronavirus support. G4S is a security services company that holds major contracts with governments around the world, including the UK. Indeed, G4S booked contracts worth £1.3b from the UK Government and public sector in 2012-2013 alone. Recent contracts have included undertaking Coronavirus response work on behalf of the Government, providing “overall site management” at 15 of the UK’s COVID-19 testing sites. These contracts, held with Boris Johnson’s Government and multiple other countries, led to a better-than-expected operating profit for the past six months, the company has admitted. G4S recorded an operating profit of £187m in the six months to July, exceeding a previous estimate of £159m. The company’s chief executive Ashley Almanza said:

The benefits of our strategy, focused execution and timely response to COVID-19 are reflected in the group’s results with resilient revenue, earnings and cash flows reported for the first six months.

Yet, despite this healthy performance, the outsourcing giant has claimed £10m from UK taxpayers in the form of Coronavirus employment relief, and £20m from other governments worldwide. Several of the services provided by G4S have been impacted by the pandemic, with the firm chosing to cut 1k jobs from its cash handling department last month due to a massive reduction in cash payments. A G4S spox told Byline Times that Government Coronavirus relief has helped to support its workers on furlough, particularly in the company’s Europe and Middle East region, where profits fell by £20m, even after public support. However, even without the £30m Government cash injection, the company as a whole would have only marginally underperformed estimates and would still have made a healthy profit, something that any firm should surely be happy with, given the present crisis.

Taxpayers might also be galled about the reliance of G4S on Coronavirus handouts, given that the company was forced to pay a £44.4m fraud bill to the UK Government in early July this year. This payment was to compensate the Government for false bills, charged to the public purse in 2011 and 2012, for security tagging people who were either dead, in prison or had not actually been tagged. The National Audit Office also reported in 2013 that G4S had paid no corporation tax the year before, despite logging billions of pounds in Government contracts. The G4S spokesperson added:

The vast majority of our employees have continued to work through the pandemic providing essential services to our customers around the world.

There is also controversy over a second major outsourcing firm, Serco, that has recorded significant growth during the pandemic. Last week, the UK-based firm, the CEO of which, Rupert Soames, is the grandson of Winston Churchill, announced that it had recorded a 400% increase in operating profit during the first half of 2020. The UK Government has commissioned the firm to help coordinate its Coronavirus ‘Test and Trace’ programme. However, the efficacy of the scheme has been severely questioned from its inception, with reports circulating of low-paid contract-tracers being given inadequate training and then left idle during much of the pandemic. The NYT for example reported in June that some contact-tracers hadn’t contacted a single person in their first three weeks, “filling their days instead with internet exercise classes and bookshelf organising.” In recent days, the number of contract-tracers in England has been slashed from 18k to 12k, with the remaining staff members told to work more closely with local public health teams, something that many experts say should have happened at the start of the pandemic. Even as late as mid-July it was reported that local health teams were not being provided with the necessary contact tracing details to manage outbreaks in their area. According to the NYT, Serco was awarded this contract without competition – mirroring a large number of other controversial Government contracts handed out to firms during the Coronavirus crisis. As limbs of the Government, paid billions of pounds by the taxpayer to effectively run large parts of the country, it is only fair that we judge outsourcing firms by the same standards of competence and public service. Currently, their grades aren’t up to scratch.

Exams Algorithm Scandal Brutally Exposes the Sham of Conservative ‘Meritocracy’
Sam Bright, Byline Times Aug 14 2020

Pupils from Eton College sit on the wall as they watch a game of “bully,”
a field game devised and played at the college. Photo: Toby Melville/PA

I think it’s very unfair because of past performance in this area, and particularly in my school, that I haven’t got in, and I know a lot of others. It’s just heartbreaking seeing my friends upset because they haven’t got in, because of previous results or to do with where you live or what school you go to. It just shouldn’t determine how you can do. – Lilly Keeley Watts, whose ‘A’ Level grades were downgraded yesterday, meaning she didn’t get her place at Durham University.

The self-impressed security of adulthood immunises many people from the traumatic memories of being a student at exam time. A war between your brain, nerves and writing speed, in the space of just a few hours, shapes the course of your life. The late nights cramming, parental nagging and occasional sobbing are all forgotten when you reach the stable plod of middle-age employment. However, while every student year group has it hard, none have been lacerated like the class of 2020. Fretting about the possibility of grade inflation, if results were based on predicted grades alone, the Government coded an algorithm to ‘standardise’ the outcomes of kids across the country based on two central factors: the past performance of schools, and teachers’ assessments of their students. The Conservatives believe in empowering the individual; they supposedly hate blunt, bureaucratic state instruments that treat everyone the same. Yet, the latter is exactly what the Government deployed to decide the ‘A’ Level results of thousand of young people this week. The grades of private school kids were boosted, a side-effect of their educational ascendancy for generations, while students from deprived areas were spiked. The algorithm cannibalised the veneer of fairness that coats the education system. But that’s not all it did. The algorithm scandal exposed the fallacy of meritocracy that characterises education and attainment in the UK. In doing so, it laid bare the innate inequalities of education, which are usually masked by the over-achievement of occasional underdogs. The entire concept of ‘standardisation’ suggests there is a standard, a social formula, that underwrites the performance of students. But, as the Government’s algorithm shows, this guiding formula is not unbridled meritocracy. In his 2012 Conservative Party conference speech, Britain’s then Eton and Oxford-educated Prime Minister David Cameron remarked:

It’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you’re going.

This notion of meritocracy, the process by which people ‘succeed,’ hasn’t really changed since 1958, when it was first theorised by political scientist Michael Young (the lefty father of Toby) in his seminal text The Rise of Meritocracy. Young posits that meritocracy is itself based on a simple algorithm: IQ + Effort = Merit. In other words: to achieve what you want to in life, all you need is hard work and talent; anyone can succeed, regardless of their background, if they simply have brains and grit. However, this week’s exam results debacle, likely to be compounded next week by GCSE results, has finally taken a sledgehammer to this myth. The strong correlation between school performance, local deprivation and exam results, built into the Government’s standardisation formula, has revealed what lots of people already knew: that social background is a central force in the performance of students. Essentially, the authoritarian algorithm created a hyper-exaggeration of a system that already exists, whereby kids from good schools and good homes generally go to good universities and a few of their peers from less advantaged backgrounds follow them. In usual circumstances, however, conservative-minded individuals can use the few disadvantaged people who make it out, so to speak, as evidence that anyone can make it. As Akala, a leading black rapper and author, writes in his book Natives, in the context of race:

A few successful black people also do very little to alter the race-class dynamics of the UK, and can even help to cement it. These successes can and will be used to beat other poor people that ‘didn’t make it’ over the head. They can be used to pretend that the system is just and there are enough seats at the table, rather than simply being honest about the way things actually work. “If you just work hard and pull your socks up you can be like me!”

This year, however, the exceptions, the teenagers who get the grades despite all their social and economic barriers to success, were forced to conform to the rule. Their grades were dragged down, because the algorithm judged correctly that people from their station typically under-perform. There is plenty of evidence that educational stratification relies heavily on social background; that people, more often than not, become the very thing that they come from. The 2018 Access to Advantage report conducted by the Sutton Trust, which examines social mobility in Britain, has a few facts that are worth listing:

  • Over a three-year period, eight of the UK’s top schools received as many Oxbridge acceptances as 2,894 schools and colleges combined. The latter total represents three-quarters of UK schools and colleges.
  • Independent school students are seven times more likely to get places at Oxbridge than students from non-selective state schools, and more than twice as likely to go to a Russell Group university.
  • Roughly 1.5% of Oxbridge applicants from the South East, South West, London or East of England attend the famed institutions. You are approximately half as likely to go to Oxbridge if you’re a higher education applicant from the North or the Midlands.

The report unsurprisingly concludes:

In the UK, whether someone goes to university, and if so at which institution they study, is highly impacted by an individual’s socioeconomic background, the school they attended and where in the country they are from. Whether looking at Oxbridge, the Russell Group or top tariff institutions, our most highly regarded universities are not equally accessible to all young people in the country.

While this year’s exam fiasco has been galling, it is simply an amplification of the insidious sorting process that sees the rich and privately-educated miraculously succeed every single year. The Government’s algorithm is a horrific failure of public policy and one that should attract derision. But if the education system is to fundamentally change, to prevent students from endless trooping in the footsteps of their parents and peers, campaigners must look beyond this isolated failure. Fairness in education relies on eroding the structural inequalities that line the boots of people who aren’t white, middle-class, southern, and/or privately-educated. There has been an algorithm sorting children for centuries. It just wasn’t created by a computer.

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