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Lambeth to award scandal-hit outsourcing firm Serco a £118.7m waste contract

Green Party councillors have vowed to challenge last night’s decision by Lambeth Council's cabinet to partner with controversial outsourcing firm Serco Ltd.

At last night’s cabinet meeting, Lambeth Labour councillors agreed to award the firm - which has been embroiled in a catalogue of abuses, fraud and failures - a waste contract worth over £100m (1).

The decision came the same day the national Labour Party criticised the firm for the part it has played in the government’s failed “test and trace” system.

Shortly after the decision was confirmed, Lambeth Green Party councillors said they intended to call in the decision, on the grounds that it contradicts the Council’s responsible procurement policy (2).

Opposition leadership questioned how the council could reconcile contracting a firm that has, among other controversies, allowed the abuse of women in detention centres and profited from privatisation of the NHS with its Responsible Procurement Policy.

The FTSE 250 company has been heavily involved in the implementation of the government’s 'hostile environment' immigration policy, that has seen many children of the Windrush generation declared as illegal immigrants and stripped of their rights.

In 2007, the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre came under management of Serco. The firm has been accused of allowing significant abuses of detainees, including sexual assaults, to occur on its watch (3).

In October 2018, in an effort to protect residents from further abuse by companies such as Serco Ltd, a motion was passed on Windrush and the Government’s hostile environment that committed Lambeth Council to “Review the Council’s policies and procedures to ensure the Council supports those affected to the fullest extent possible.” (4).

The company also has a history of committing fraud. Between 2010 to 2018, Serco Geografix took responsibility for three counts of fraud and two of false accounting (6). Waste collection and disposal is an area with particular exposure to the risk of major fraud, especially if tonnages are not reported accurately. Given Serco’s track record, the decision to award them this contract has raised questions amongst residents and members of the council as regards their suitability.

St Leonards Green Party councillor and co-leader of the opposition group in Lambeth, Jonathan Bartley said:
“It is appalling that Lambeth Council would get into bed with a company like Serco, who are profiting from the Government’s hostile environment policy and NHS privatisation, and award them a contract worth over £100 million.”

“History of fraud, exploitation and abuse goes against everything the council should stand for and contradicts the council’s own policy on responsible procurement. Now would be the time to consider the benefits of bringing waste services back in-house.”

Notes
 
(1) https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=225&MId=13763&Ver=4
(2) https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/brl-Lambeth-responsible-procurement-policy.pdf
(3) https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/20/serco-given-200m-contract-to-run-two-more-immigration-removal-centres
(4) https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/s98634/Motions%2010.10.18%20v1.pdf
(5) https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/s124280/Public%20-%20Waste%20cabinet%20report%20part%201%20vs%203.6%20final.pdf
(6) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25448944

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