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The Industry’s Voice No.1

12 February 2008

Speaking Out
With the business services sector forming a significant part of the economy and playing a vital support role in the delivery of public sector services and corporate business activity, getting the message across to decision makers is vital, as Mark Fox explains

The BSA – The Business Services Association – represents companies providing business and outsourced services in the private and public sectors, and their advisors, to the Government, politicians, regulators, the media and other stakeholders.

The provision of business and outsourced services is one of the UK’s largest and most successful industries. A recent National Audit Office report highlighted that in the public sector alone outsourced services accounted for £44 billion worth of public sector provision – that is about a fifth of all public sector service provision. To put it another way there are 3 million people employed by private sector contractors delivering public sector services.

When you put the economic impact of the industry in the public sector together with its business in the private sector it is clear the industry is a major driver of the UK economy. It touches every sector of the economy across all regions of the country – driving choice, innovation and diversity. No wonder then that outsourcing is one of the big political topics of the day. With Gordon Brown and David Cameron both referencing the industry in their Party conference speeches last autumn we should all understand the country’s leading politicians are taking a close interest in what we do. This increasing public and political profile presents clear challenges to the industry and the BSA.

The political and economic environments in which we operate are increasingly volatile. For the first time in a decade the tempo of political debate is quickening. With political policies and statements increasingly affected by the proximity of a General Election we need to ensure that we have the research and data necessary to promote the benefits of what we do.

Sometimes it has been too easy for politicians to lay the blame at the door of outsourced service providers when a project has not gone to plan or turned out as originally envisaged. In other instances it has been clear that it has been the failure of the public sector to manage effectively rather than the contactor providing efficiently that has been at fault. The industry should not be a convenient ‘whipping boy’ for politicians to easily lay off blame or responsibility onto as an expedient.

Similarly with the economic climate toughening up the pressure will increase on service providers to deliver lower costs and more service for lower prices. We have to ensure we are able to effectively explain the need to safeguard standards and quality at a time when the pressure is on to cutback.

Informed comment
The BSA is well placed to promote the industry, but we need to do more. Through its committees and Policy Groups composed of practitioners as well as advisors, the BSA is able to provide informed comment and advice on the industry to all those who directly and indirectly affect its future. In many instances the BSA is the only business and outsourced service specific body representing the industry on key Government groups. From pension issues, training and regulatory matters through to Agenda For Change, implementation of the Warwick Agenda and related policies, the BSA works to ensure the industries interests are effectively represented.

Another sign of the growing significance of the industry is the establishment of the Julius Review – named after the economist, DeAnne Julius – which is scheduled to report in the summer. This report will be a key milestone in understanding the size and impact of the industry on service delivery and the economy.

Later in the month the BSA will be taking a group of senior industry figures to No 10 for a ‘round table’ with key political advisors who influence policy that affect us. This meeting will mark the start of a new round of meetings we will be having with politicians and advisors of all parties. This patient but persistent work lies at the heart of effectively promoting the industry.

Similarly with the media we will work with trade and national journalists to promote a better understanding of what we do and how we do it. Perhaps too often the industry has come under attack because of a lack of proper understanding about how we conduct our business or the circumstances in which it is being done. Certainly sometimes it is too easy to attack us because we have not been swift enough in defending ourselves effectively. This is why at the BSA we are gathering case studies and commissioning original and independent research so we can evidence what we say. We will also be commissioning YouGov to undertake polling on the industry so we can gather a better understanding of the confidence and attitude of
practitioners.

The challenges created by increasing political and public interest in the industry are clear and demanding. They are that we gather information and data about what we do as it impacts across the UK economy – in both the private and public sectors and that we then communicate our case effectively. Working closely with its members and the wider industry this is the challenge the BSA is committed to meeting.

● Mark Fox, is chief executive of the BSA – The Business Services Association

www.bsa-org.com


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