26/05/2011 - 00:00

Serco spreads its influence

26/05/2011 - 00:00

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SERCO is a company that Western Australians are becoming increasingly familiar with, since it became preferred tenderer to supply non-medical services to the giant Fiona Stanley Hospital project rising near the Kwinana Freeway at Murdoch.

Serco spreads its influence

SERCO is a company that Western Australians are becoming increasingly familiar with, since it became preferred tenderer to supply non-medical services to the giant Fiona Stanley Hospital project rising near the Kwinana Freeway at Murdoch.

The group, a British multinational, has hit the headlines in WA as unions attack the proposed outsourcing deal. Serco is also getting national prominence for its role in managing Australia’s detention centres, including at Christmas Island off the WA coast, a key part of the federal government’s immigration management.

As difficult as these areas are, they highlight the growth of private companies that can take on roles once monopolised by the public service – reducing costs and improving accountability.

Serco is already a major employer in WA, with about 1,000 staff in

the state.

The company’s biggest operation in the state is Acacia Prison, which it has operated since 2006, taking over from another private operator. In that time prisoner numbers have increased from 785 to 1,000 under the direction of the Department of Corrective Services and Serco claims strong results in its management strategy, which aims to help inmates develop skills via work and education.

The WA Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services reported this month that Acacia Prison was the state’s best-managed gaol and saved taxpayers 30 per cent compared with publicly run facilities.

The company was named this month as the preferred tenderer to take over prisoner transport services in WA from G4S.

Serco has also been involved in maritime support to the Navy at HMAS Stirling for 14 years, through a joint venture with DMS Maritime, and it owns Great Southern Rail, which operates the Indian-Pacific trans-continental train service.

Despite this significant input in state and federal services, the group is only just considering appointing a WA state manager who will oversee local operations and report to Serco Asia Pacific CEO David Campbell.

The role of the private sector is seen as important to governments trying to reduce costs and improve efficiency of the public sector. In WA, the state government has also viewed the community sector or not for profits as a key player in transferring operational control for services from the state to third-party providers.

While this has proved controversial to some, and been a major area of protest from the union movement and the state opposition, there is increasing evidence that such outsourcing can work.

Success stories such as Acacia are influential in convincing politicians and the public that outsiders can manage areas once thought to be exclusive to the public service.

 

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