Outsourcing is everywhere these days. The contracting out of public services to private-sector companies is a familiar mechanism that’s broadly understood to be in the interests of cost-saving, administrative efficiency and innovation. Yet it is also one that often leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Even those who argue – as I have certainly done elsewhere – that no form of service provision is wholly unsuitable for private enterprise might find that the word ‘outsourcing’ provokes negative associations from daily life. I have to admit it immediately makes even me think, in caricature, of minimum-waged workers provided by cunning suppliers – perhaps former public servants – exploiting ill-written contracts. I also confess that I find it mildly offensive when entering a public building to be confronted by a disagreeable security guard in an ill-fitting uniform who lacks any air of authority because he does not really belong to the institution concerned.
Alan White’s exposé of the alleged misdeeds and failings of ‘the secret companies that run Britain’ (by which he means chiefly the four largest and, in reality, not so secret outsourcing businesses: G4S, Serco, Capita and the French IT services