Serco, probably Britain’s most hated firm, has been coining it in during the pandemic. In fact, it’s made so much money that it now plans a handout to shareholders.
But while investors rub their hands they will surely turn their heads away from some Serco’s carnage.
The outsourcing company has pocketed £350 million of public funds running the disastrous NHS Test and Trace programme. It operated more than a quarter of the testing sites and half the “Tier 3” community tracing.
The failure of the Test and Trace is a key reason why Britain has one of the world’s worst coronavirus death rates. Recently the programme was missing at least three in ten contacts of people who tested positive for coronavirus.
And this is an improvement from the earlier days of the pandemic.
Earlier this month it was revealed that Serco had subcontracted part of Test and Trace to firms with an equally terrible record.
One of those was HSG UK, which had been criticised for presiding over “meltdown” when it ran legal aid services for the government. Another was US firm Concentrix, which was behind a major tax credits debacle.
But that won’t be bothering company boss, the Honourable Rupert Christopher Soames OBE.
He saw the firm's revenues rise by 20 percent last year to £3.9 billion, leading to a massive 75 percent hike in profits to £179.2 million.
The firm is now so awash with cash that it plans to restart dividend payments to shareholders.
All such payouts were suspended about a decade ago in what were some difficult years.
Serco had to return millions of pounds to the Ministry of Justice in 2013 when it was found to be defrauding them in a contract to provide offender electronic tagging.
It was then fined nearly £23 million as part of a 2019 settlement with the Serious Fraud Office, and two of its former directors faced criminal charges.
But it was not only tagging that shamed the company.
Its running of the probation services and “Community Payback” schemes was deemed “a disaster”, and contracts were returned to the government.
Around the same time, Serco was forced to pull out of a contract to run GP out of hours services in Cornwall after it emerged the firm had been falsifying data and had a “bullying culture” that stopped people complaining about it.
In fact, the multinational was taking so many liberties that its own law firm, Appleby, described it as a “high risk” client. It said it had a “history of problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”.
Top of the list of the lawyers’ concerns about Serco were allegations of fraud, the cover-up of the abuse of detainees, and the mishandling of radioactive waste.
Aware of the firm’s negative public perception, Serco bosses last year decided to hand back the government cash it had received for furlough payments.
Why count the coins, when stashing the notes is what really matters?