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The Industry’s Voice No.2

19 May 2008

Time to articulate
As the business environment gets tighter, and government focuses on the performance of the construction and support services sectors, Mark Fox says that now more than ever, the FM sector needs to articulating its needs and priorities to the decision makers and political parties

The economic and political environments are becoming increasingly tough for the UK business and outsourced service industry. The ‘credit crunch’ is taking its toll on confidence and investment across the national and international economy. Across the private and public sectors those who outsource their services are looking for ever increasing value and productivity, placing ever increasing pressure on providers to increase the services they offer whilst expecting costs to decrease.

Politically the looming General Election and the increasing political turbulence brings with it debates about the future of the industry that need informing and leading. The ongoing Julius Review of the private sector’s role in providing public services and the recent OFT inquiry into the construction industry are two very different examples of how the industry is under more public scrutiny than ever before.

Effectively representing the industry – promoting it and where necessary defending it – to government, the media and other stakeholders is increasingly important to the commercial success of the sector as a whole, and every business and practitioner working in it.

Effective representation
Since arriving at the BSA six months ago the message I repeatedly hear from Ministers and officials across government departments, and the shadow ministers in the opposition parties, is that they need the industry to be effectively represented. They want to be able to discuss policy and economic issues with an organisation that can speak for the industry as it operates across the full range of services and sectors it operates in.

The BSA, with its growing membership, brings together a wide range of practitioners and advisors that operate in the sector. We are able to provide a positive and effective forum to discuss economic and policy issues, thrash out focussed answers and solutions and promote them to key decision makers and commentators with the authority of a broadly based membership.

The report that will come from the review being led by DeAnne Julius on behalf of Business Secretary John Hutton, M.P., will be an important milestone in understanding and recognising the growing importance of the private sector in public service provision. The BSA has coordinated an industry-wide submission the review and is participating in the discussions that are being held as part of the process.

Party policies
The review, however, is only a part of the vigorous policy debate about the private sector’s role in the public sector. Both major political parties are looking to develop their policies in this area. It is crucial for the industry to develop as integrated and coordinated a contribution to these discussions as it would expect to provide to customers procuring a package of outsourced services.

This political dialogue matters. Over the next few months both main political parties will be developing policies that they will carry with them into the next Parliament. Now is the time for the industry to be on the front foot, articulating its needs and priorities. For this to be effective we need to ensure policy makers understand that many providers operate across the private as well as the public sector. We must be careful that an artificial divide is not drawn between the two sectors that are serviced by essentially the same providers.

The BSA is developing a range of specialist committees composed of practitioners and advisors to lead its work across the full range of service delivery. They include defence, education, health, housing, Olympics and waste management. We also have committees dedicated to working on technical areas such as regulation, finance and taxation, human resources, pensions and public procurement.

These committees meet regularly with Ministers and senior officials. Recent meetings have included a ‘round table’ at No 10, where the issues facing the industry were presented and discussed.

Under the new Head of Research & Policy, and working closely with thought leaders and BSA Strategic Partners such a the ‘think tank’ Reform, the Serco Institute and the newly established Centre for Public Service Partnerships at Birmingham University, the BSA is contributing to the development of the research and information that is necessary to evidence and lead the media and public policy debate.

Business and outsourced services is one of the UK’s largest and most successful industries. It is a major employer. It drives increased productivity, innovation and investment in every sector of the economy across, all regions of the country. The last decade has seen a huge increase in the industry across the private and public sectors, but times are increasingly tough and to stay ahead we have to continue to pioneer innovation, best practice and ever improving value.

We know of the many and positive things the industry contributes but we have not always been successful in transmitting that very positive message to our wider audiences. The industries growing involvement in the public sector has brought with it a level of political and media scrutiny that has not always been comfortable or indeed positive. This is a challenge we need to meet and be more effective in responding to. It needs to be done because it is part and parcel of operating in the public sector and it needs to be done because it is in the industries, and individual businesses, commercial interest to do so.

The BSA as the body that represents business and outsourced service providers across the full range of services they provide is well placed to coordinate and to lead this work.

● Mark Fox is chief executive of the Business Services Association

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