The pressure on public finances means that successful public service reform will remain a priority for UK central government in this Parliament and for years to come. Successful reform in central government is often delivered in partnership with private sector organisations. The National Audit Office (NAO) has conducted two studies recently on delivery of public-private partnerships; in these reports the NAO challenged government and its private sector suppliers to work together more effectively in the taxpayers’ interest and to address the issues behind the current lack of confidence in government’s use of contractors. Contracting defines the terms of the relationship and the risks and reward apportionment must be clearly laid out with acceptable costs, gains and measures; together with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
If the “crisis of confidence” that exists in partnering is going to be addressed, central government must lead the way in tackling these challenges. This includes growing its own contracting skill base, making effective use of open book arrangements to monitor service delivery and ensuring open and fair competition in the bid and tendering process. There is a perception of “current incumbent advantage” which is a barrier to fair competition. The taxpayer must be confident that there is a level of competitiveness that ensures that central government is getting value for money, and contract lengths must allow for this. Private providers should also be given confidence that the cost of the public sector customer will be worth the gain.