Five more years of austerity, it sounds grime. More services out sourced, more redundancies, more service reductions, it sounds inevitable. But here is a reason to be jolly, corporate Christmas parties and lavish presents from new business partners. What better start to the festivities than a weekend in London, a posh dinner dance and an overnight in a swanky hotel. Just think how impressed your friends will be when you invite them to join you in the executive box for the big Boxing Day match. In the commercial world corporate entertainment is all part of doing business and these days the public sector is big business.
Considering the number of local authorities who have outsourced their HR, finance, payroll and IT services and the billions of pounds the NHS commissioning groups will be placing in contracts with the private sector it's surprising no ones mentioned the C word. This isn't Chicago ( have you seen BOSS) or Naples, no one assumes that financial inducements are necessary to win contracts or that public sector officials are corrupt but then again we didn't outsource all these services before and why should we assume only foreigners can't resist temptation.
In all my years as a senior manager I was never taken out for an expensive meal to discuss a deal, I didn't receive an expensive Christmas hamper nor did I spend a day at the races with grateful business partners. I might have had a budget of over £100 million but it was all tied up in in-house services, employee salaries and residential homes fees, even grants to voluntary sector organisations were outside my gift. There were no big contracts to award so there was no scope for corruption. Well unless you count paying my wife to deliver someone off marketing training!
There was one occasion when I got an insight into how different things could be. I was the newly appointed project manager of a very big adult social care project. I had a team of finance, IT and experience operational managers to help me to deliver this project and a hard deadline of two years. A former colleague and friend working in the local university business school suggested that I should get some independent action research to help deliver the project on time and to increase the credibility with partners especially Health. In fact they were on the lookout to do just such work with local authorities. I agreed it was a good idea but had no budget for research. " Well you could always not fill one of your vacant project team posts and use the money for independently evaluating the projects progress" , they helpfully suggested. So I did. However I was clear that the contract would have to go out to a competitive bid in line with policy and procedure.
The advice from contracting and legal services was that in view of the sums involved I only needed three bids to select from. I did not need to advertise I could simply approach organisations with the relevant experience and invite them to bid for the work. So I wrote to four university business schools including the local university inviting them to bid and enclosing a pack about the project and a specification for the action research. This basically said that over a two year period we required quarterly evaluation reports on progress with recommendations for actions. The evaluation to be based on interviews with the target group which was a cross section of health and social care staff.
One university was very keen and rang me up to press for more info, what they wanted to know was how much money I had to spend? "We don't want to submit a bid that is way too high and lose out when we could have put in a lower bid!" I think what they meant was they could tailor what they offered to the budget available. But I wanted to use fee levels to make the decision. My friend of course knew what the budget was. One declined to bid, one was massively over budget and one was right on the money.
So what if this was a multi £ million contract and I was the leader of the council, chief executive or director of finance?
Blair McPherson former director of community services author and commentator on the public sector www.blairmcpherson.co.uk