MPs call Qinetiq sellout execs 'profiteers' - no, really?
Cutlasses, parrots retrospectively seen as clues
But this is the way privatisations always go, and it's at least as much the government's fault as it is the raiders'. The unwritten talks go something like this:
Gov: Look, we've got a nightmare on our hands - a huge overstaffed bureau of boffins and loads of attached admin bottom-feeders that we don't want to keep paying for. But we don't have the guts to face a massive round of sackings either - the unions would skin us. How about you chaps take them on? You can fire them all later, as long as you wait for a while.
Raiders: Mmm. Okay, we can sort that out for you. We'll raise some private equity cash and use it to buy up a bunch of profitable American companies. The money from them will give us a balance sheet in the black when it comes to flotation. But if you want us to keep the loss-making Brits employed for any time at all, you'll have to give us a bloody enormous sweetheart monopoly deal. Won't cost you too much straight off, though - we'll collect later, over time, after all you guys have moved jobs and the story's gone away.
Gov: So we don't have to fire anyone, you won't fire anyone for a while at least, and we don't have to pay anything until later?
Raiders: Yup. And hey - you'll get a bit of cashback up front. Hire yourself a few doctors or teachers or something.
Gov: That's extraordinarily kind of you. It seems as though you deserve something for your trouble.
Raiders (wiping drool from chins): Oh, don't worry. We'll sort ourselves out.
And so the deal unfolds. Based on past form, we can expect the UK end of QinetiQ to shrink to the point where it matches the MoD's boffinry and testing budget - maybe a little bigger, if QinetiQ UK can win significant non-MoD business and use its privileged government access to advantage. Meanwhile, the company's capital and manpower base will gradually shift more and more across the Atlantic in pursuit of hugely richer pickings.
At the end of the process, the results in the UK will look much the same as if the MoD had just fired everyone it couldn't afford in the first place. The only difference will be that some money men and investors - having handled the MoD's dirty work for it spread over a long period, and charged hefty premiums over many years for doing so - will have become very rich, partly in the form of valuable American companies and partly in plain old money.
The money men don't really lie about what they do, though, or if they do nobody over the age of ten should believe them. They couldn't be more obvious about who they are or what they do if they had parrots on their shoulders and cutlasses in their hands.
Much of the weakness here lies in the government, which feels unable to be honest even with itself - certainly not with its own employees and certainly not with the taxpaying public.
Neither Tory or Labour governments can bear to just say straight up "we've decided to massively cut defence research funding, and that's going to mean there will be a lot fewer defence researchers". Instead they prefer to believe in some fantasy where a magic private-sector wand will be waved, the government will pay less - even make some money! - nobody will be fired and everyone will fly to work astride their winged pig steeds.
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