Role of private sector needs re-evaluation

Social services are spending a much higher proportion of their
budgets in the private and voluntary sectors than either the health
or education services, and come closest to offering a “level
playing field” between providers, according to a major new report
on the role of the private sector in public services.

The Commission on Public Private Partnerships also warns that
where public private partnerships are a response to underfunding of
public services, they are unlikely to succeed in improving

The report, Building Better Partnerships, takes a much more
cautious line on the potential of the private sector to improve
public services than earlier newspaper leaks suggested.

After sitting for 18 months, the commission has flatly
contradicted government claims that getting private capital into
public services is a way of saving taxpayers money, and has also
declared that service improvements, including improved value for
money, will not be achieved if public sector commissioners select
contractors on the basis of cost alone.

In all areas an evidence-based approach needs to be adopted,
says the pro-Labour Institute for Public Policy Research’s

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 set 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
sector itself.

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.

“If public private partnerships are just to do with cutting
terms and conditions of employees they should not be considered,”
said the IPPR’s research director Gavin Kelly.

– Building Better Partnerships from 020 7470 6100.

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