Martin Vander Weyer

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Shadow State: Inside the Secret Companies that Run Britain

By Alan White

Oneworld 298pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

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.

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