Who Runs Your World – Channel 4 on Outsourcing

We linked last week to the video I did for Channel Four News, but we didn’t really discuss the main article it accompanied, written by Sonia Rothwell - “Who runs your world”?.

What was noticeable as a contributor to the process was her view of public sector outsourcing. She’s a highly intelligent woman, (MSc in international security and global governance), a journalist and a broadcaster. Yet she was, it is fair to say, genuinely shocked when she realised how much the private sector now delivers on behalf of the state.

I guess I take it for granted, like many of our readers, as we’re steeped in contracts, suppliers, and outsourcing, whether or not we work in the public sector. But Rothwell’s reason for writing the series was that she feels the general public just don’t understand the extent of the roles that Capita, Serco, G4S, Carillion, Circle, Atos, etc, play in our daily lives.

I don’t think she’s necessarily opposed to outsourcing – she didn’t exactly strike me as raving Stalinist – but she asked me some penetrating questions about the limits of outsourcing, some of which I touched on in the video (below). Would you mind being arrested by a G4S “policeman” rather than a public servant, for instance?

Now I’m not sure the citizen is too concerned about a lot of this, as long as the service they get is good. After all, GPs are independent contractors, rather than state employees, and no-one seems to care too much about that. So I worry more in terms of our capability to manage the procurement and contract management process effectively as we outsource more to the private sector.

And issues such as transparency (how can we understand better what is going on within these contracts) and conflict of interest (civil servants or Chief Constables awarding big contracts then joining the Boards of those firms on retirement) need more attention.

Indeed, with perfect timing, North Tyneside Council announced two major outsourcing contracts last week, with ICT services, along with finance, procurement, revenues and benefits, customer services and human resources going to Balfour Beatty, and propriety related services to Capita Symonds. Hundreds of staff will transfer to the firms. It does feel like outside central Government, we're on an steepening slope towards outsourced services.

Anyway, it’s a good article, here on the Channel 4 News website, and here is the video.

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