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Rise in Outsourced UK Government Services Failing to Meet Standards

by Kit West
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The number of outsourced government services that are failing to meet standards has risen sharply, with concerns raised about schemes to support asylum seekers and educate young offenders.

A register compiled by Whitehall officials keeps track of each contract tendered, along with its “key performance indicators” (KPIs) to judge whether it is being delivered well and a rating: “good”, “approaching target”, “requires improvement” and “inadequate”.

In what critics said was evidence of ministers failing to deliver high-quality public services, the number of contractors providing work judged to be “inadequate” or “requires improvement” jumped from 119 to 207 in a year – a 73% rise. That means 6.5% of all the targets set for government contracts were being missed, though service providers often blamed external factors.

The figures relate to the first quarter of 2023, and are a sharp jump when compared with the same period last year, which saw the proportion of jobs judged to be “inadequate” or requiring improvement stand at 4.81%.

Across Whitehall, the Ministry of Justice saw the highest number of concerns raised. A job to provide prison food, given to Bidfood UK, was listed as “requires improvement”. Bidfood was said to have not fully satisfied the requirement to ensure availability of food and fulfilment of orders.

Further concerns were raised over contracts to provide education schemes to those detained in three young offenders’ institutes.

Several contracts handed out by the Home Office for firms to support asylum seekers were called inadequate. Issues were identified with call waiting times for people using an advice helpline run by the charity Migrant Help, and Serco Ltd’s contract to provide asylum accommodation and support services.

The delivery of a scheme designed to help disabled people into work, known as intensive personalised employment support, was also deemed inadequate.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which compiled an analysis of the figures, said: “Ministers have taken their eyes off the ball when it comes to key contracts.

“With the state increasing to an almost unprecedented size, government seems unable to focus on what really matters to taxpayers. Whitehall must ensure that it gets a grip on these contracts and brings key indicators back into line with expectations.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, called the findings “a damning indictment of the Tory mismanagement of public services” that she argued was “holding Britain back”.

Rayner added: “While the Tories are managing decline and wallowing in their own negligence, Labour’s national procurement plan will get tough on poor performance, strike off failed providers, and claw back taxpayers’ money.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the government was committed to ensuring that all contracts “deliver value for money for the taxpayer” and that “the vast majority of suppliers are performing well against their targets, with over 80% meeting or exceeding their performance targets”.

They added: “The latest figures show the number of KPIs being met has increased by 5% in the last year and more than three-quarters (79%) of KPIs are now rated ‘good’. Where areas for improvement are identified, we work with suppliers to tackle issues quickly, so that people get the top quality public services that they deserve.”

A Serco spokesperson said: “The rating for our asylum accommodation contract relates to the speed of obtaining suitable accommodation in the community. Given we are accommodating record numbers of people, obtaining this accommodation is extremely challenging but we are working extremely hard to ensure as much of this accommodation is available as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for Migrant Help said that since the start of its contract with the Home Office, “demand has been significantly higher than was originally forecast”. They said while wait times were longer than hoped, “we are doing everything we can in complex circumstances to ensure that our clients get the help and support they need”, and that against all key performance indicators, they “regularly achieve our targets on most of these”.

Carole Hainsworth, client director at Bidfood, said the organisation had “worked closely to ensure that despite the extreme challenges across the supply chain over the past 18 months, we are continually working to achieve high service levels”. She added that a lot of the impact of factors such as the war in Ukraine, labour shortages and rising costs were “out of our control”, but work continued “to ensure we continue to fulfil our contract”.

Source : The Guardian

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