15 August 2012

Public servants are not all so bad after all! Now that the Olympic Games are over the British Defence Minister has acknowledged that the private sector is not up to delivering some services for government – not something that comes naturally from a Conservative politician. He has spoken of rethinking his scepticism of the sector and appreciating the capacity of the armed forces. With Government policy of increasingly contracting out services, this is a surprising admission.

He said the story of G4S and the need for the military to step in to provide Games security was informative. Just two weeks before the Games opening ceremony the company could not meet its £284 million contract to provide 10,400 staff.

Being lean may suit the private sector which often has lower resilience requirements than government. And because the Army is dependent on territorial soldiers to make up the capacity lost through major reductions in regular force numbers, the Minister needs to find ways to encourage part-timers. A law change is likely that will make it illegal for employers to ask whether a potential employee is a member of the reserves in the same way that asking about sexuality or an intention to have children is unacceptable.

An interesting contrast is shown in the Scottish Government’s Procurement Bill that has the purpose of making the public sector market more diverse. The Bill will increase opportunities for sub contractors by requiring advertising in a process similar to GETS in New Zealand. This week the Scottish Government indicated that it would increase SME participation to 45% – only Slovenia, Germany, Luxembourg and Ireland among EU states give SMEs a greater access to public procurement. Yet 80% of the EU have a higher SME participation than the UK as a whole.

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