In the last few days the construction giant Carillion has gone into liquidation. As one of the government's major suppliers, Carillion was responsible for constructing railways and government buildings, maintaining thousands of homes for military families, cleaning hospitals and even providing meals for schoolchildren. It employs almost 20,000 people in the UK and 43,000 people worldwide. The fallout from this collapse will not only be felt by Carillion's projects and employees but also the many subcontractors who are now facing an uncertain future.
As the story unfolds it appears that this fall did not happen overnight. In fact the company had previously issued three profit warnings.
I welcome the government's announcement that there will be an investigation into what has happened. There are lots of questions to be answered. Have the directors of Carillion been negligent? Why was Carillion awarded three more government contracts worth £2 billion despite the profit warnings? And did the government scrutinise its major supplier well?
The common theme in these three questions is responsibility. Have the directors and the government been faithful with what they were responsible for?
In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, Jesus tells the story of a master who entrusts three servants with large amounts of money – the first with one talent, the second with two and the third with five. After a length of time, the master returns to settle his accounts. The servants with two and five talents gain double the amount they were entrusted with. The servant with the one talent hid his talent in the ground and returns only with what he was originally given.
When I preach from this passage, I normally encourage the members of the congregation to be faithful with the talents God has entrusted to them. However, when I delve into this story, I discover that the parable teaches us much more. It provides us with the framework of how managers should treat their employees and how we should be rewarded for our work.
In our society there is an inequality in how people are treated in their workplaces. For some people, if they don't attain the required standard they are disciplined or dismissed. However, at director level they are rewarded for less than acceptable work.
Carillion's bosses have been rewarded with six-figure salaries – plus bonuses – even when the company has been heading towards bankruptcy. Surely this can't be right.
In our Bible story, when the accounts have been settled, the master does not give the unfaithful servant more talents in the vain hope that he will be able to gain more. Even with three profit warnings in the place, the government awarded Carillion three more contracts. The master in our story did not throw away good money after bad.
Instead, the master develops a different strategy. He takes away the talent and gives it to the faithful servant who had gained five more.
In the light of the failure of Carillion – and indeed of the tragedy of Grenfell Towers – should the government adopt a different strategy when outsourcing its public service contracts? Should our public services be used to make profits for private firms? Just like the master, may be this is time for the government to review its processes and make the necessary changes?
The master shows great wisdom in his decisions and holds his servants accountable. They are not left to squander his wealth, but their actions are scrutinised and appropriate measures are put in place. It is government policy to appoint a Crown Representative to manage its suppliers. Apparently, this position was vacant between August and November 2017, a crucial time when the government should have been holding Carillion to account on a regular basis. The master shows us that we should hold people to account for their work but also as employees we should also be willing to give an account for our actions.
It is very easy to point the finger and ask for the government and Carillion to be accountable for their actions, but we too have been entrusted with responsibility for this crisis. Too often as Christians we read the news and become angry or sympathise with those who it affects. But God calls us to be proactive too.
Last year, I was in the House of Commons watching Prime Minister's Questions. As a person passionate about politics I was enthralled to see so many high-profile politicians in one place. As I was enjoying the moment, I experienced a nudge from God. I was being told off. God did not call me to be an observer but to be a participant. I knew that instead of watching the politics in the room I should be praying into it.
God has called us to pray for this nation. It is our responsibility. As this saga unfolds, may I encourage you not just to observe but to participate. We need to be faithful with what God has placed into your hand and pray for Carillion, the government and the many people this situation affects. May God's wisdom, provision and strategy prevail. Watch out, though – as you are faithful with this, God will give you more to do.
Louise Davies is the Director of Christians on the Left and part of the leadership team at Hope City Church in Sheffield.