In our work to continually shape markets and public services for the better, Serco has proposed four principles which we suggest should govern relations between Government and its suppliers, be they public bodies, not-for-profit organisations or private sector companies. These are as follows:
We should strengthen transparency in public contracting. This means that for large contracts for public services, which are not commoditised, which do not impinge on National Security, and which do not include significant amounts of intellectual property, the presumption should be in favour of open-book accounting, in which the Cabinet Office and National Audit Office can see the suppliers’ accounts of major contracts, whether they be performed by public or private operators. There should also be far greater transparency of operational performance: except in exceptional circumstances, suppliers, be they private or Government-owned, should be required to publish their performance against key operational indicators every six months so they are held accountable for the delivery of their promises to the taxpayers paying for them and the users who they serve. And we believe that there should be a formal, rigorous and transparent decision-making process by which Government decides what mechanism it should use, be it in-house or by a third party, to deliver a given project or policy. We call this the “Transparency Principle”.
Both suppliers and the Government should have the right, on payment of an agreed break fee, to exit a contract at pre-determined intervals. We call this the “Orderly Exit Principle”. The purpose of this is to give both Government and supplier the ability to exit contracts which are not working out as intended. For instance, if the supplier is making greater-than-expected profits, or Government policy changes, or performance is unsatisfactory but still within the bounds of the contract, the Government should be able, on payment of a break fee, to re-compete or take back in-house the contract; and likewise if the supplier was making unexpected losses, or changes in regulation had made it impossible to deliver the contract as intended, the supplier can exit the contract on payment of a fee which would compensate the Government for the cost of re-tendering. This would, for both Government and supplier, significantly reduce the risk of being stuck together in unhappy marriages.
Suppliers of sensitive contracts should be obliged to lodge with Government a “living will”, being a set of arrangements to facilitate the transfer of a contract back to Government or to another supplier if required. This would significantly reduce the operational risk to Government of supplier failure. This is the “Security of Supply Principle”.
Government and suppliers should agree to abide by a mutually-agreed code of conduct, which would set out expected standards of behaviour from Government and its contractors. This would involve the Government agreeing not to impose punitive or unfair terms and conditions or transfer unmanageable state risk; and suppliers would agree to maintain certain metrics of financial stability; pay their sub-contractors in a timely fashion; and adequately fund their pensions. We think it would be important to have a process of independent arbitration built into the code of conduct to ensure that there is some avenue of redress and calling to account those who do not abide by the code. We call this the “Fairness Principle”.
UK Public Select Committees
We are proactively engaging with the UK Public Select Committees and you can download both the evidence by Serco to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into Strategic Suppliers in June 2018 and also our submission to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) below: