The dangers of public-private partnerships

Doug Maughan states emotively that ID cards and searches are infringements on civil liberties that are a price worth paying to prevent “hundreds or perhaps thousands” being killed (Letters, January 2). One would be hard pushed to find any disagreement that the core function of a government is the protection of the citizens it represents, but there are limited resources that can be assigned to this task and the question then becomes: what application of what level of resource gives the greatest leverage in attaining our goal of protection?

What must be factored into an analysis is the degree of competence and trustworthiness of the government propounding the case for ID cards – and in this area I am in agreement with Mr Maughan when he states that “other than scaremongering about a police state, we’ve had little debate about them”. This, I’m afraid, is the nub of the matter. There deliberately has been little reasoned debate as an adversarial system leads to emotive declaration instead of forensic examination in parliament.

We now live with a UK Government that has lost credibility in what it says and does. We have lived with a generation of political hegemony from Thatcher through to New Labour that has resulted in the political process becoming adulterated by too much unaccountable influence. It is less than half a century ago that Eisenhower warned that, “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”. I would contend that public-private partnerships in our society meet Eisenhower’s paradigm as it has now become more difficult to dissect the true motive behind the aims and objectives of a government that has failed in managing and leading public-private partnership projects.

Does the government have the best interest of the population at heart when it develops an argument or is it seeking partners who will donate part of their profit to the political process? Is part of this cycle an understanding that an excessive profit is accepted in advance? Critical analysis of the Skye Bridge Project, ICT in the NHS and the commercial confidentiality in PPP projects would suggest this is the case. If ID cards are to become an essential feature of citizenship why, at a time when social inclusion is a stated aim of the government, are they to cost anything from £5.4bn (government) to £18bn (LSE) or about £90 to £300? How better could billions of pounds be spent in protecting us?

I finish with another quote from Eisenhower, a statesman uniquely placed to recognise the danger of too much unaccountable influence on the political process, when he commented on partnerships: “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” Vigilance and scrutiny are essential to good decision-making and I’m afraid this government has not won the argument.

Paul Cochrane