Social services departments are spending a much higher
proportion of their budgets in the private and voluntary sectors
than health or education services, and come closest to offering a
“level playing field“ between providers, according to a major new
report, writes Frances Rickford.
But the report, from the Commission on Public Private
Partnerships set up by the Institute for Public Policy Research,
also warns that where public private partnerships are a response to
underfunding of public services, they are unlikely to succeed.
The report, Building Better Partnerships, takes a much more
cautious line on the potential of the private sector to improve
public services than was suggested by earlier newspaper leaks.
After sitting for 18 months, the commission flatly contradicted
government claims that getting private capital into public services
is a way of saving taxpayers money. It says that service
improvements, including more value for money, will not be achieved
if public sector commissioners select contractors on the basis of
In all areas an evidence-based approach needs to be adopted,
says the commission. All arrangements need to be carefully piloted
and evaluated, with a clear prior commitment by the government to
learn from mistakes.
“If evaluations show that public private partnerships are not
performing satisfactorily the policy should be revised
Commenting on the government’s plans for intermediate care
services for older people, the commission recommends that the
government sets up pilot studies to establish long term partnering
arrangements between the public, private and voluntary sectors.
It also proposes that a regime similar to Best Value should
apply to primary care groups and trusts, and to care trusts once
In general, it says there is potential for more diversity in
provision by local government, health and education, and that broad
categories such as “core” and “ancillary” should not be used to
distinguish between services which can and cannot be provided
through partnerships. But it also suggests that there is great
potential for improvement to services led from within the public
If the private sector is used solely as a way of cutting public
sector costs, public private partnerships will be discredited in
the eyes of the public and the government will fail to improve the
quality of public services as it has promised to do.
Gavin Kelly, IPPR’s research director, said: “If public
private partnerships are just to do with cutting terms and
conditions of employees they should not be considered.”