THE best and worst of Parliament was self-evident when Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves tabled an urgent question over the finances of public service provider Capita in the wake of the collapse of rival outsourcing firm Carillion.
As an economist, and respected chairman of the influential all-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, she was perfectly within her rights to ask a number of forensic questions.
What was unacceptable, however, was the indifference of Oliver Dowden CBE – the newly-appointed Cabinet Office Minister is a former deputy chief of staff to ex-premier David Cameron – as he accused Labour of opportunism.
What is at issue here is the livelihoods of thousands of staff, sub-contractors and the provision of key services run by supposed private sector giants because of the efficiencies they promise. It’s just a shame that Mr Dowden did not recognise this. For, while an emerging debate is unfolding about the scale of private sector involvement in the building of new schools, hospitals and so on, or the provision of maintenance and other services, the concerns expressed by Ms Reeves were in the public interest and voters do expect senior MPs like her to provide expert scrutiny without fear or favour.
After all, the financial cost of the Government’s decision to continue awarding contracts to Carillion, including a HS2 deal that was signed off by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling after a profits warning had been issued, is still to emerge. And, while Capita is looking to take immediate action to shore up the company’s finances, it will be the taxpayer who ultimately foots the bill if the firm is unable, for whatever reason, to fulfil its obligations like, for example, the running of London’s congestion charge. The sooner Mr Dowden realises this, the better, or his Ministerial career will be very shortlived indeed.