Wednesday, 17 January 2018

For whom the bells toll

Courcieux (Wikipedia fr)
I’m really annoyed at Carillion. I don’t know where they got their name from, but it’s very close to the sound I first heard camping with our family in the pretty village of Courcieux in the Vosges Mountains. From the campsite we could hear the “carillon” of bells from St Mary of the Assumption’s church, playing a hymn. That was a great holiday.

However, my annoyance can be as nothing to the desperation of those tens of thousands affected by the collapse of Carillion, the second biggest construction and services company in the country – not only those employed directly but also those working for its subcontractors. Small and medium-sized companies face bankruptcy. Workers are likely to lose jobs and pensions, facing insecurity for themselves and their families. Meanwhile the bosses of Carillion, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall as far back as 2016, tried to ring-fence their bonuses and their pay, so that despite the collapse of the huge firm they ran they would continue to receive their 6-figure salaries for another nine months. Carillion bosses rewards (The Week)

And it appears that the function of the company (and others like it) was merely to tender for government contracts, at the lowest possible price to undercut other bidders, and then to subcontract the work to smaller companies which they squeezed in one way or another such as delaying payments. On the way they bought up potential competition such as the old family construction firms, McAlpines and Laings, thus reducing the field of those available for tendering. So what in effect did they do? To my amateur eye it seems they acted as middle men between public authorities and private contractors, a role once carried out in-house by central and local government – and of course they creamed off profits for the directors, management and shareholders. A prodigal waste of public money.
Photo: The Week

I watched Prime Minister’s Questions today, hoping to see some depth of sympathy at the impending flood of human misery which the Carillion collapse is about to unleash and some real anger at malpractice that led to it. But not at all! I appreciate that the government did not “manage” Carillion, as Mrs May pointed out, but their due diligence must be up for question. But what I saw as she talked about it was precious little genuine concern from the front bench, just nods – but of course they are not about to lose their livelihoods. And there was no recognition that the Carillion affair is a stress-test for the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and it has revealed its fatal flaw. Private profit is no partner for public works.

It’s to be hoped that this Carillion carillon is tolling the death knell of the whole ill-conceived PFI project, and ringing in a new dawn for the tens of thousands of our neighbours whose future is now so uncertain.


  1. There was an informative post on Facebook from NHS Newsday about this, which illustrated the daft iniquity of the system.