Peril of failed outsourcing

WHAT’S the fascination with outsourcing that makes so many managers and consultants offer it as the solution when they’re asked to make improvements or find savings? Public is not always best but there’s no guarantee private is either.

There have been some spectacular government failures with prisons, probation, and tagging of offenders.

In Birmingham we remember call centre problems, IT difficulties and the road maintenance contract, all of which was supposed to improve services and save money. I was reminded of this old chestnut after bumping into one of our unsung heroes, a local community worker who provides a sterling service in one of the more deprived parts of my constituency. He was updating me on the various waifs and strays he attends to, how he often provides breakfast or other meals and how he keeps a supply of spare clothing handy for emergencies, everything from nappies to underwear and outer garments.

His centre is run on a shoestring but does a wonderful job. That didn’t stop attempts to outsource it.

Not surprisingly there were no takers because it’s hard to make money out of the poor and vulnerable. If some private sector group had taken it over, it would probably have closed by now. It certainly wouldn’t be offering the help our community worker provides. I’ve also just heard of proposals to outsource Sendiass, the advice and support service for parents of children with disabilities. This is apparently being suggested as part of a plan to improve Birmingham’s special needs services.

How would it work in the private sector?

Presumably parents would be expected to pay for advice and representation at tribunals. This would almost certainly reduce the number of appeals but sounds more like a recipe for silencing parents than improving services for children with special needs.

Continuous improvement and value for money should be our goals. Everyone responsible for public services should be looking after the pennies as well as the pounds but we can’t expect those in need, the poor and vulnerable, to suffer because of failed outsourcing which can often reduce provision and end up costing more.

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