Friday, November 19, 2010

The cost of contracting out

For the past two decades we've seen a concerted push to contract out central and local government services to the private sector. Transport. Cleaning. Water. Prisons. Today, we saw where that push leads, as 28 Christchurch buses were ordered off the road for safety defects:

Police are "staggered" by the state of Christchurch buses and fear for the safety of passengers after ordering 28 vehicles off the road in a sting operation.

Officers stopped and inspected 114 buses over three days, with 60 per cent needing repair, including 24 per cent with safety problems so serious a new Certificate of Fitness (COF) was required.

Four were "pink-stickered", meaning their defects were so significant failure was "imminent".

Police ordered 28 buses immediately off the road and a further 34 buses were ordered out of service until they could be repaired, but were allowed to complete their route.

Many of these problems were serious enough to kill people, yet bus companies were putting the buses on the road after skimping on maintenance. But that's what happens when you tender services out to the lowest bidder: they cut costs, and inevitably it comes out of something important.

Blame for this can be sheeted straight back to ECan and its contracting policy. But they don't want to talk about it:

ECan commissioner with responsibility for public passenger transport, Rex Williams, would not discuss the issue and said The Press was looking for "an easy story".
Williams, remember, is not elected, but was given his job by the government after it sacked the elected ECan and cancelled this year's elections. And it shows in his attitude. He doesn't feel at all accountable to the people of Canterbury, only to his government paymasters.