While we now have an almighty row over the government’s
plan to use private firms to run public services, there was hardly
a murmur when the previous Conservative government opened up the
doors for the same to happen in social care.
The reason was simple: the voluntary sector had its reputation
protected by old-fashioned images of charitable organisations
doling out alms.
When ministers spoke of reducing the role of the statutory
sector in social care service delivery, they did not mention
money-making firms – they talked of the independent sector,
including voluntary org-anisations. The same voluntary
organisations that many in social services had forged links with
since the 1980s.
The result was that arguments over whether money should be made
from providing care services were muted.
However, now, by suggesting allowing private firms to make money
out of people’s illness and children’s education,
Labour leaders have raised fresh questions over the role of private
firms in public services.
And it is clear it’s not just private sector money the
government is playing for – it is the private sector mentality –
drive, efficiency, and above all, results – that it wants a piece
The government’s agenda for social care will see more
services being delivered outside the traditional local authority
structure. Partnership means contracting out more services to the
But social care voluntary organisations – whatever their
individual strengths – do not have a reputation for go-getting. And
this could reduce their survival rate in the increasingly
commercialised world of public services. That could open up new
opportunities for private companies.
The best private providers are innovating in areas such as the
care of severely damaged children, where the public sector has
receded. The public sector should stop suspecting their motives.
But the public sector is where services take direction, shaped by
local needs and accountability.