At the time I was still living in Australia, and on my periodic visits to the United Kingdom, I would ask this question of Serco’s contract managers who had previously worked inside government: ‘What is different about delivering public services in the private sector?’ The answers that they gave were much the same as those provided by the respondents to this survey – a combination of increased autonomy and increased accountability.
The problem with modern government is not the people but the systems. Competition and contracting create a different decision-making environment that enables these people to get on with the business of delivering efficient and effective public services. This phenomenon is by no means confined to the English-speaking world. In his recently- published account of the highly-successful privatisation of Japanese National Railways, Yoshiyuki Kasai, now the President of JR Central, comments that:
Reduced political and bureaucratic interference in the management was an important prerequisite for success. People, however, do not change overnight. What you see is what the workers have always been. In the process of privatization, they were just able to express themselves more freely.
‘Good People, Good Systems’ is a pilot study based on a small but significant sample of Serco’s contracts. It provides insights rather than answers. And it is published in the hope that it will stimulate government, industry and academic institutions to undertake further research in this area, drawing on the experiences of a much wider range of companies and public services.