The Plastic Hippo

July 26, 2011

The graduate – Part two

Filed under: Education,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:39 pm

“Good morning class. I hope you had a good holiday and I’m sure you all have your work books with you. Last time, we looked at the historical significance of Michael Gove. Today, we will be looking at Serco.”

Compared to the Secretary of State for Education, Christopher Rajendran Hyman CBE, chief executive of Serco, seems like an affable, self-effacing sort of chap. “I’m no genius”, he claims, and when asked about some of the more controversial activities of his company, he said: “I have no idea. I’m not a politician. If I was any brighter I’d say something else.” Humble to the point of obsequious insincerity and an active Pentecostal Christian, he claims that “what I am successful for is listening to God”. But behind this pious, cheery modesty, is a shrewd and some would say ruthless businessman.

Born and educated under apartheid in South Africa, young Chris graduated from the University of Natal and got his first break working for Arthur Andersen, the accounting giant who, after being found guilty of various misdemeanours during the Enron scandal, simply disappeared as the brand had become so toxic. Hyman, and much of the Andersen business, moved to Ernst and Young, another big beast of accountancy and hardly paragons of virtue or, indeed, legality. Ernst and Young audited the accounts of Equitable Life during unlawful annuity fiddling, the Allied Irish Bank prior to the collapse of the Irish economy and, in case you have forgotten, Lehman Brothers.

Hyman, of course, had nothing to do with the wrongdoing and was already building Serco even as his former employers were auditing the end of the financial world. Interestingly, and completely unrelated, a sizeable chuck of the disgraced Andersen empire was taken on by Grant Thornton, Walsall council’s very own auditors.

There is no suggestion that Mr Hyman was involved in any criminality, but the lessons he learnt from some of the more “creative” activities in the financial sector provided him with an excellent education in how to make lots of money and, if necessary, cover any embarrassing tracks.

As an increasingly dominant “service provider” both globally and in the UK, Serco`s Chief Executive has described the recession as “good for business”. He has, presumably after listening to God, been proved correct as Serco profits and shareholder dividends go through the roof even as the Osborne economy stagnates. With profit rather than service being the main motivator, the masters of the PFI contract beloved by Blair, Brown and now Cameron, are doing very nicely thank you.

This humble blog has previously commented on the service provided by Serco and the lucrative education contract with Walsall council and it would be churlish to go over the same old turgid prose. Simply repeating some of the more unsavoury goings on at Serco will achieve nothing and will not stop Hyman and his chums from making vast amounts of money from the exploitation of children. Time to draw a line and move on, as the guilty are so fond of saying.

Putting the past behind them, local authorities in Stoke-on-Trent and Bradford have decided not to renew their education contracts with Serco. After 10 years in Bradford, Serco depart leaving schools in a worst state than when they arrived and there is no evidence of the promised improvement in academic standards. In Stoke, central government had to intervene to sort out the mess. The notorious Yarl`s Wood immigration centre, where a high court judge found that Serco acted unlawfully in the detention and abuse of children, is to be shut down.

Walsall council now seek to re-negotiate the Serco contract and cabinet meet in secret session on Wednesday to see if it can claw back even more of the £345million paid out to allow the destruction of accountable learning in the borough. This is over and above the £7.5million already demanded which, in the great scheme of things, is small beer given the number of schools being cajoled, bullied or rail-roaded into leaving local authority control. For Serco, this is not a matter of dogma or proselytism. Those evils are the preserve of the idiot Michael Gove and the rather sinister individuals who feel compelled to control Academies. For Serco, it is a matter of financial pragmatism and revenue before provision.

Consider Serco`s collusion with Robert, now Lord, Edmiston over the disgraceful betrayal of the students, staff and families at Darlaston. In the face of opposition from just about everybody else, Edmiston got his school, a peerage and half a park thrown in, Serco had one less school to support and the council got shafted. Interestingly, Uncle Bob donates heavily to the Conservative Party, particularly in the West Midlands. Christopher Hyman is above this kind of sordid detail. He is quoted as offering this insight into his business model:

“Civil liberties – we don’t have a view on that. That’s a question for the government. What we can say is that we have expertise in this.”

Expertise indeed, at Yarl`s Wood, Darlaston and Sneyd, Blue Coat and Shelfield, Leckie and Barr Beacon, Frank F and Alumwell, Willenhall and St Francis, Park Hall and Ryders Hayes, nothing will stand in the way of profit. The removal of 90 Serco posts involves the retirement and re-deployment of some of the bullies and the redundancy of the good folks previously in the employ of the authority who actually make a difference in the classroom.

For all the sudden bluster, particularly from the leader of the council, the secret meeting of cabinet will achieve very little. There will be lots of outraged indignant hot air, but the sad fact remains that our rather stupid civic worthies have been taken in by some greedy snake-oil salesmen and the 12 year contract with Serco will prove to be unbreakable. There has been no improvement in Walsall schools. Serco didn’t get to where they are today by taking any notice of democracy, public opinion or morality. A company that maintains nuclear and chemical weapons, transfers and monitors criminals, abuses children and is involved in suspicious air traffic control and “ground handling” activities can afford some very clever lawyers. Walsall doesn’t stand a chance.

In a rare interview with the Guardian in 2006, Christopher Hyman admitted to a competitive streak. “I can’t play tennis with my wife without serving my normal serve”, he said. When asked why he would not let his seven-year old son beat him at go-karting, he said that such a victory would teach the child that “he’s better than a adult”. In an unusual moment of candour, the Chief Executive told the reporter that he relaxed with:

“Motor racing and holidays. Favourite places are Antigua and Switzerland for skiing.”

Having endured apartheid in Durban, Mr Hyman has done rather well out of doing the dirty jobs that governments don’t want to do and is well placed to have an opinion on civil liberty and the rights of children. It is unlikely that his enjoyment of the delights of Antigua in the Leeward Islands and on the pistes of St Moritz and Davos will be lessened by some minor irritation in Walsall.

Having graduated from oppression, his true reward, along with that of Michael Gove, will undoubtedly and ultimately be found in heaven.

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