Services > BPO

Report raises ethical fears over "limited" outsource contract scrutiny

Neil Merrett Published 17 June 2014

Independent committee calls on the Cabinet Office to monitor and report possible ethical concerns in public service delivery

New findings from the Committee on Standards in Public Life has expressed concern at the "limited monitoring" of third party contractors providing public services, as well as a perceived emphasis on the placing of cost considerations above service quality.

Addressing the latest findings, the independent committee has outlined a number of proposals to try and address concerns about current monitoring of third party conduct in delivering public services, including efforts to contractually mandate ethical standards as part of any future outsourcing agreements.

Noting a growing focus on outsourcing public services to private sector and voluntary organisations, the committee's report highlighted a lack of contractual mechanisms to outline acceptable ethical standards for third parties, as well as the need for commercial skills in government to challenge poor service delivery. The committee said it was concerned about the public sector's ability to question potential issues in the service offered by larger providers.

"One area which gave us particular concern arises from the size and complexity of supply chains, particularly the use of sub-contractors and the potential for lack of visibility on the part of commissioners as to the performance of sub-contractors and the extent to which their behaviour is being monitored and evaluated," the committee said.

"Clear lines of accountability need to be established between the commissioner and the lead contractor who holds responsibility for its relationship with sub-contractors. One commissioner told us: 'There is a concern around sub-contracting and that government departments do not reach far down enough into the supply chain.'"

In an attempt to address these potential concerns, the committee's report, which interviewed a number of private sector contractors and public sector bodies including ministries, local councils and the police, outlined a number of proposals to be considered by public sector groups.

These recommendations included calls for the Cabinet Office to launch a strategy enforcing frameworks supporting ethical standards in the public sector, while also playing up the responsibility of third parties to uphold them.

The committee also urged government representatives to ensure service providers commit to meet ethical standards within their contract agreements for the provision of services. It also recommended a greater collaborative approach with the National Audit Office (NAO) and HM Treasury as a means to ensure focuses on value for money were in line with wider ethical considerations in delivering services to the public.

The Committee's other recommendations included:

  • Making one non-executive board member of government departmental boards specifically responsible for ethical standards.
  • Providing assurance that public money is spent in accordance to high ethical standards expected for public service delivery by annually certifying themselves about the adequacy of an organisation's arrangements.
  • Arranging training through the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and Civil Service Learning and the commissioning academy focused on ethical awareness and how to disseminate best practice for ethical standards.

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