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A Big Week for Soapboxing
by Kerry Hallard, CEO, National Outsourcing Association
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Once again we have anti-outsourcing rhetoric rearing its ill-informed head. Maybe providing some negative commentary on outsourcing is just considered an easy way to get in the papers these days. 

This week we’ve got Nigel Farage spouting about how if he were in power, he might well “end outsourcing and bring that back within the role of direct government,” whilst ‘simultaneously promising to reduce public spending.’ He didn’t go into any further detail, of course. It’s just another truly ridiculous, contradictory statement from the anti-immigration campaigner with the immigrant wife…but if he’d really thought deeply about it, he might see how it’s really not possible to do both, what with the costs of new technology and recruitment, training, TUPE, legal teams, and all the communications and consultants’ hours that would run alongside such projects, it would be a deeply inefficient use of taxpayers’ money.

People are too quick to forget the investments that outsourcing suppliers make, and people like Farage only want to talk about the profits made, and never the benefits gained. This is part of the reason why the public perception of outsourcing is poor. Much better questions to ask would be “does the government know what it really wants?” Does the supplier deliver that?” “Could the government do it better themselves?” and “Could the public sector work better with suppliers to get improved value out of the relationship?”

Someone who might be taken more seriously is Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary. Her anti-outsourcing cry for attention this week is that Labour, should they come to power, “would do away with the current system of big centrally commissioned contracts when the current tranche expired in 2015-16. Instead services would be bought at a more local level, perhaps by local authorities or local enterprise partnerships.” 

It’s a nice idea, but to make that work, a lot of people are going to need urgent outsourcing governance training. There has long been concern that most public servants lack the commercial skills required for successful sourcing. Reeves’ plan takes responsibly away from those who do have those skills, and places it squarely in the shaky hands of those who more than likely don’t. Good outsourcing demands a niche, specialist skillset and if the country is to run with maximum efficiency, more people in the public sector need to learn how to do it well - and that goes for any politicians who wish to talk about it in the media too. The better informed they are, the greater wisdom they can impart to the reading public.   

For a sustained, widespread recovery, operating as efficiently as possible and reinvesting in growth strategies is key. Often the most cost-efficient route will involve outsourcing, and pouring additional resources into getting as good as possible at your ‘real business.’ Don’t waste resources developing capabilities in the ‘wrong’ areas. Government should focus on governing. That is policy-making, regulations and laws, and increasingly, ensuring they have the right skills on-board to get the best out of a range of specialist suppliers.

Outsourcing is here to stay. The conversation shouldn’t be about doing it more or less; it should be about doing it better.   

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