Rethinking Public-Private Partnerships

May 30, 2018   By Trinley Walker, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

Attention is increasingly focussing on how public services are delivered and what roles the public and private sectors should have. Budgetary pressures, an ageing society and the looming fallout from Brexit, have injected further urgency into the debate around who is best placed to provide core public services. New and innovative models of delivery are emerging in response to these challenges.

Recent high-profile debacles, such as Carillion’s demise, have demonstrated that at a national level, the system that allowed for these failures requires a massive overhaul. Yet this notwithstanding, it is neither realistic nor desirable to expect the state to provide the lion’s share of public services.

But as it currently stands the debate on private involvement in the delivery of public services can all too easily get bogged down based on party-political lines. A simplistic ‘either-or’ narrative has taken shape, with Labour Party Opposition adopting a hostile stance to any form of outsourcing and instead advocating in-house delivery; pitted against the view that private sector efficiency should be harnessed over rigid, inefficient public delivery – a view more traditionally equated with the Conservative Party.

Against this backdrop, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the needs driving public service delivery are evolving, at pace. Demand pressures are rising sharply; yet at the same time local government budgets have been slashed. The public versus private dichotomy fails to address this pressure sufficiently, focusing, as the narratives do, on means of delivery rather than outcomes. New thinking is needed concerning how partnerships between the public and private sectors can be configured to effectively meet the changing nature of demand for public services.

To this end, NLGN is embarking on a new project to explore these very issues. This research will attempt to clear away some of the intellectual clutter that overshadows this debate and instead point to a new direction for public-private partnerships. Deliberations will focus on how a new synergy, that draws on the strengths of both the public and private sector, can be developed.

This research will seek to address a number of key issues that merit serious consideration in this space, such as how liability is divided between public and private partners in contracts governing the delivery of services that have been outsourced. Linked to the issue of risk in outsourced contracts is how accountability and transparency can be attained – factors that are important for service users and public confidence and participation.

Key questions that the project will address include:

  • How can procurement embed a shared responsibility between public and private partners?
  • What measures can ensure that incentives are aligned in contracts overseeing outsourced services?
  • Which are the new, emerging models of collaboration between public and private partners and what has been their impact?

The project will establish a set of clear principles that speak to the current issues facing public and private sector bodies embarking on partnerships, so that services delivery can aspire to be of excellent quality and adaptable to changing needs.

If you would like to discuss this research project then please contact Trinley Walker, Senior Policy Researcher at NLGN: twalker@newlocal.org.uk

NLGN’s research project Rethinking Public Private Partnerships, is jointly supported by Engie, Jacobs and Weightmans.

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