During the term of the last administration the role of the private sector in helping the government deliver its objectives grew dramatically through measures like the public/private initiative and the much derided PFI.
As an avid reader of Private Eye I read about the alleged inefficiencies of PFI and, worse still, I read about "off balance sheet debt" and "unjust enrichment". What I saw was the undermining of the partnership between the private and public sector which is so essential.
The government cannot meet its social policy objectives without the private sector. Lord Heseltine said recently that new ways have to be found to harness the leveraging power of the private sector. So how do we do this without triggering a landslide of accusations that a return to the ways of unjust enrichment is looming?
We need a new approach and a new player in the private sector response to governments need. The hallmarks of this approach should be complete transparency and reasonable return. And we need to go further: addressing not just the reward that companies receive for their activities, but the way in which services and responses to need are designed.
Often when the government engages with the private sector it is based on an assessment of need by the appropriate department which is then drawn up into a specification for pricing by the private sector. Unfortunately this approach fails to engage with the private sector at the point where it is able to exercise the most expertise: designing a response. Crucially, this is where the biggest opportunity to affect the cost of the response, using entrepreneurship and imagination, is the greatest.
Government has to find ways of engaging with the private sector at the very early stages. To do so, it must be confident that this will not result in abuse. And it must engage with the entire private sector - not just the same old usual suspects. What we need is a paradigm shift: changing the blame culture that arises from accountability for the spending of public cash, to a greater delegation to officers so that they can engage more freely with the private sector.
The first step is to engage in a new dialogue at local, regional and national level. What are we waiting for?
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