Outsources of discontent

June 17, 2010

The University Alliance is rehashing tired old arguments about saving money by outsourcing ("Lift tax-barrier to shared services, Alliance pleads", 10 June).

The claim that contracting out services automatically leads to savings and more efficiency is a myth. High-profile failings in the NHS, education and transport reveal the lack of control over quality, accountability and cost outsourcing brings. The real level of competition for public-sector contracts is low, and the prices charged by the private sector for running services remain high.

A National Audit Office study of privatised facilities-service contracts found that nearly half had not demonstrated value for money. At the University of Dundee, a joint venture with a private company to build student accommodation led to losses in sequential years of £400,000 and £1.3 million. Dundee has had to provide funding to the company from its own revenues.

But there are more compelling reasons for keeping services in-house, namely quality and the student experience. Research at Queen Mary, University of London reveals that its move to bring cleaning services in-house has stimulated improvements in job quality, productivity and service delivery, with minor cost increases.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the Alliance appears to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Jon Richards, Senior national officer Unison.

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