This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Preparing for the electoral challenge

18 September 2009

With the Party Conference season well underway, the prospect of a general election by next June will focus attention on public policy, public services and business recovery. The FM outsourcing sector has opportunities and challenges ahead and through the BSA a coherent voice in the debate leading up to the vote, as Mark Fox explains.

For many in business the long haul up to Christmas looks set to be a continuation of the tough and challenging conditions to which we have become all too accustomed. The economic environment is not helped by the increasingly febrile atmosphere that is growing as the inevitable General Election grows nearer. It must take place no later than early June 2010, and it could well be called before that. No-one knows except the Prime Minister and for the time being he isn’t revealing his plans.
What business craves is stability and certainty – both economically and politically. In the near future at least we are likely to get neither. In the meantime the UK outsourcing and business service industry has to go on doing what it does best – increasing value for money, driving up standards and leading innovation.
Post-election boost
The industry fulfils a special role in the life of the country in that it delivers services across both the private and public sectors. It is, of course, the delivery of services that attracts the most attention – both media and political. The role of the industry in delivering public services at both national as well as local level looks set to increase dramatically after the next General Election. Political will requires it and economic facts will demand it. That puts the industry in a very exciting place. Many new opportunities are already opening up in the delivery of public services and those opportunities will increase significantly as time moves on. So there are new opportunities for us, but with them come new challenges.
As the private sector’s role in delivering public sector services increases so will the public’s interest in the industry continue to grow. As the public interest grows the media and political interest will follow it. This is inevitable and it requires the industry to be ready to be open about what it does and how it does it. It means we need to be ‘on the front foot’ in our relationships with politicians and with journalists.
For many businesses in the sector this is already part of the business model. For others it will require a change in thinking. That is the challenge that goes with the new opportunities that we will have.
Members of the BSA work together on relationship building and public policy  development.Over the last year, for example, the BSA through its Budget and Pre Budget Report submissions has been leading the way in discussions with the Government about tackling the thorny issue of the effects of transferring public sector pension liabilities into the private sector. There is no easy answer to this issue but there is now a growing consensus that reform is urgently needed.
In defence we have been nominated as one of two lead trade bodies to help the MoD develop their processes for procuring the next round of regional prime contracts. In other areas too such as health, education, the Olympics, housing and waste management, the BSA has brought the industry together to talk with the Government at national, local and regional level. Dialogue and constructive policy development are the key ways for the industry to effectively make its case with those who decide the business environment in which we operate.
Increasingly services are procured and provided across disciplines. It is therefore sensible that the industry trade body can represent the way companies function and the market operates. This is what the BSA does. It represents the industry as it is, rather than how it used to be.
Since joining the BSA in November 2007 I have been struck by just how much policyand decision makers want to know more about the industry. The lack of coherent representation and data has meant that the industry has been a relatively easy target for the media and for hostile Parliamentary questions and comments. Of course there is no way of completely stopping criticism, and in some cases it will have been justified, but by being engaged and having the dialogue the industry is helping itself.
By also representing the industry as a whole, that is as the industry operates acrossboth the private and public sectors, the BSA is able to bring a much broader perspective to the submissions we make and the discussions we have. It is for the private sector skills and experience that the industry is being encouraged to deliver more public services. It is important that fact is not forgotten. As an industry what we want is not to be treated in some special way as though we are some different bit of the public sector, rather what we need is a level playing field and transparent procurement processes so we can compete fairly.
As we plough on through this election season the industry will focus on what the landscape will look like after everyone has voted. Whatever the outcome over these next few months the opportunities and challenges for the industry in the UK have never been greater.
● Mark Fox is Chief Executive of the Business Services Association

Contact Details and Archive...

Print this page | E-mail this page