Gareth Rhys Williams, the government's chief commercial officer, said more than half of the 20-strong group are "secondees from outsourcing industries". ©Leo Wilkinson
Gareth Rhys Williams, the government's chief commercial officer, said more than half of the 20-strong group are "secondees from outsourcing industries". ©Leo Wilkinson

Study group examining government outsourcing failures

posted by Alex Daniel
18 September 2018

The government is running a study group to examine ways to improve the management of major outsourcing contracts, SM has learned.

The outsourcing study group will examine “complicated issues where we need to work with industry” in outsourcing policy, according to Gareth Rhys Williams, the government’s chief commercial officer.

It is tasked with examining how the civil service can improve major outsourcing contracts in the wake of several recent high profile failures such as the collapse of Carillion, as well as major rail and prison contracts.

Issues covered include how to evaluate risk better, how to set up living wills, which KPIs should be published, how to run pilots, and how to ensure the best baseline data is being used.

“All of these [are] things that don’t go wrong often,” Rhys Williams said, “but when they do go wrong it's a massive issue.”

More than half of the 20-strong group are “secondees from the outsourcing industries”, he told SM.

Set up earlier this year, the study group will run until Christmas and will publish its findings as it goes along. The government will also be “publishing new procurement policy as we go”.

Rhys Williams said: “There’s about 10,000 contracts in central government and 15 to 20 that are in the news the whole time. But the other 9,880 are working perfectly.

“We absolutely need to fix the high-profile ones that go wrong, but they are not the majority of what we do.”

This year has seen several of these high-profile failures, and the government was most recently forced to take back direct control of a G4S-run prison amid accusations of “abject failure of contract management and delivery”.

Just last week, MPs put the failure of the East Coast Mainline franchise partly down to a “mismanaged bid process”, while the final contracts held by Carillion were only transferred to new service providers in August, after the company collapsed in January.

Rhys Williams also rebuffed calls from one of the architects of the Crown Commercial Service, who suggested the government needed a centralised contracting authority to handle major government outsourcing projects in the wake of the failure of outsourcing probation services in England and Wales.

Colin Cram, who proposed the concept of a centralised government procurement body in 2010, told SM in July there should be a group of “top commercial people” able to operate across government departments on all major or complex contracts including outsourcing and PFI schemes.

But Rhys Williams suggested such a body wouldn’t work. “You have to have people who know what they're talking about, buying the bespoke things,” he said.

“The balance you've got at the moment is departments buying what is bespoke to them. If you take submarine buying away from the MoD [Ministry of Defence], [and give it to] a central group of people who don’t know much about submarines, it’s not going to work.

“What we want to do is learn the lessons of everything we’ve done before in rail, crossrail, Heathrow, and we want to apply that to the next large projects we buy.”

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