Amidst the COVID-19 chaos, the Tory government has been handing out juicy contracts to their friends in big business. Private firms are making millions, whilst ordinary people suffer.

Amidst the COVID-19 chaos, the Tory government has been handing out juicy contracts to their friends in big business. Private firms are making millions, whilst ordinary people suffer.

The Tories are using the coronavirus crisis to transfer key NHS duties to the private sector without scrutiny.

The government is using the pandemic as a cover to rush through privatisation by the backdoor, placing public health in the hands of their profiteering private-sector patrons. Over the course of this crisis, state contracts worth over £1 billion have been awarded to private companies.

Ministers have used special powers granted to deal with the virus to bypass normal tendering processes, awarding NHS contracts to a whole host of private firms.

Deloitte, KPMG, Serco, Sodexo, Mitie, Boots and Palantir (a US data mining group) have all secured taxpayer-funded commissions to manage drive-in testing centres. Randox, a healthcare firm that employs Tory MP Owen Paterson as a paid consultant (on £100,000 a year!), has been handed a £133 million contract to produce testing kits.

Everything from lab-testing facilities to the Nightingale hospitals to PPE supply has been outsourced to private companies.

Disaster capitalism

This is a perfect example of what Naomi Klein termed ‘disaster capitalism.

In any catastrophe - natural or man made - the capitalist class always scent opportunity. In the chaos, and using the excuse of the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that arise, the capitalists, with their political accomplices, act like sneaky thieves, grabbing whatever they can at the public’s expense.

We are now seeing the results of this outsourcing. Nightingale hospitals have been closed, with some - including the Birmingham Nightingale hospital - not having admitted a single patient, despite tens of thousands of elderly people dying in care homes.

The abject mismanagement of these hospitals and private care homes is down to the fact that these firms are more interested in profits than provision.

End outsourcing and privatisation

NHSHowever, it is not just contracts for NHS services that have been awarded to private companies. A contract worth £234 million was awarded to French firm Edenred to feed more than one million pupils eligible for free school meals. Edenred has since been accused of ‘woeful’ preparation, leaving vulnerable children to go hungry.

And many more private companies have been given contracts to deliver food parcels to vulnerable people, or to supply laptops to disadvantaged students and teachers so they can work from home.

What is clear is that the government is more interested in awarding these contracts to their wealthy donors, allowing them to make huge profits from a public health crisis, than protecting the general public and ensuring that the virus is properly traced and contained.

Private companies are not prepared or willing to efficiently carry out the tasks required to contain the COVID-19 virus. They are interested only in their profits.

We need to reverse all privatisation and outsourcing in the NHS, in local councils, and of our public services more widely. Essential services to deal with the pandemic should be brought under public ownership, and democratically managed by the working class in the interests of the public good, rather than for private profiteering.

Private companies fail to provide PPE

Manon Powrie

improvised protective equipmentThe COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the inability of private companies to supply the levels of PPE needed to protect workers on the frontline. Months after the arrival of the pandemic, there are still critical shortages of PPE.

The idealised picture from the Department of Health and Social Care - which has repeatedly stated that the UK was “one of the most prepared countries in the world” for pandemics - sharply contradicts the reality. The deaths of at least 200 healthcare workers have been linked to a lack of adequate protection.

Ever since Thatcher introduced market forces into the NHS in the 1980s, key services have been increasingly handed over to private contractors. The claim is that this reduces government spending.

But this outsourcing has led to decentralisation, cutting of corners, and the overstretching of supply chains - now incapable of providing an organised response to the pandemic.

As such, instead of fixing shortages of supplies, the problem has been exacerbated. And yet defendants of capitalism claim that outsourcing and privatisation - i.e. ‘the market - is somehow more efficient.

Short-staffed and under-stocked

As The Guardian reported, private firm Movianto, contracted by the government to stockpile, manage and distribute PPE, has been particularly incompetent at this job, failing to deliver PPE on time.

Sources speak of chaos at warehouses, with badly managed stock and short staffing leading to vans being delayed by several hours as they wait to be loaded with PPE, sometimes even with the wrong equipment.

Whilst patently failing to deliver these services, the parasitic capitalists who owned Movianto have still found time to weigh up their next business option, selling the company for £107 million in the middle of the pandemic.

Capitalist chaos

Workers controlThis chaos reflects the chaos of the capitalist system. The provision of the PPE - necessary to adequately protect healthcare workers - has just been left up to the anarchic forces of the capitalist market.

Under capitalism, production is driven by profit, rather than being democratically planned on the basis of need. In turn, outsourcing has put “layers of corporate red tape between doctors and nurses who need PPE”.

Ultimately, this shows the potential efficiency to be gained in supplying PPE if outsourced contracts were to be brought in house, with the NHS placed in public hands.

Without a fully nationalised healthcare sector, the NHS cannot plan the allocation of supplies to where they are needed most. Private contractors must be booted out, and these functions brought back under public ownership as part of a socialist economic plan.

Only then will workers on the frontline be fully protected.