Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Make or buy - make or break

Today we have learnt of plans to 'mutualise' "dozens" of public sector services within the next two years. Of course that just gets us to the next election, so the political risk is high of selecting the wrong service or even more basic, not managing the process right. Get it right and the public should benefit, get it wrong and you break it.

So, with two blogs this week already considering options appraisal, this looks as if it is topic of the week.

We have already seen the 'cull of the quangos' so let's hope some lessons were learnt from that. But then that begs another question - why were these public services up for the make/buy debate at the minute not deal with at that time?

But this isn't a cull, this is a 'mutualisation'. The assumption is that some of the 75,000 current employees will want to take a stake in the new 'mutuals'. Has that assumption been robustly tested?

Then there's the proposal that the government will guarantee contracts for a number of years to the new mutuals. It will be interesting to see how that will be delivered given the public procurement regulations?

If I were one of the employees, I think one of the questions I'd ask would be, what sort of business justification suggests that the 'mutuals' will be sustainable without the government contracts? We know that the third sector has paid a big price and in some cases brought to its knees as a result of the austerity strategy.

For the wider citizenry, there are other questions. If it is now considered these services can be 'off-loaded', why  were they introduced in the first place? With the increased reduction in political accountability for such a large proportion of public services how is democratic accountability retained? If you reduce democratic accountability, should we see a commensurate reduction in the salary costs of MPs? Who is carrying the risk if this all goes wrong?

We could also question the feasibility of the two year project plan and its dependencies on consultation, staff contract renegotiation, etc.

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