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Serco Institute: Government & private sector pandemic collaboration a model for improved services beyond health emergency

Published: 27 Jul 2021

A new report by the think tank Serco Institute, launched in July 2021, examined how the UAE Government has and can continue to use strategic partnerships with private sector organisations to create the capacity and flexibility required to support the delivery of public services, especially post pandemic, and why collaborating with the private sector should be embedded in UAE policy-making.

Commenting on the launch of the report, Serco Institute Deputy Director, Ben O’Keeffe said: 

“The pandemic has seen government services face some of their toughest challenges. However, through collaboration with the private sector, they have been more resilient than anyone would have imagined before the emergence of Covid-19.

“The flexibility and capacity created by the private sector, as well as the expertise and insight it offered, allowed governments to rapidly make and then implement effective policy decisions in response to the changing conditions.”

An example of this is from April 2020 when Dubai World Trade Centre was converted to a state-of-art, fully functional field hospital capable of supporting more than 3,000 COVID-19 patients. In support, Serco Middle East provided more than 80 healthcare staff who supplied a full range of non-clinical operations that eventually reduced cost (as compared to public sector equivalents) and increased efficiency.

Examining the impact the private sector can have when collaborating in the delivery of government services, the report identifies four key benefits:

  1. Cost efficiency - the commercial nature of outsourcers means there is a requirement for efficiency
  2. Flexibility - companies providing services to government often have the ability to more easily scale-up and down operations, for example, through the movement of staff between contracts
  3. Innovation & expertise - drawing on international expertise and cutting-edge practices, outsourcers are well-placed to capitalise on innovation in their delivery of public services
  4. Quality & accountability – clear quality expectations, performance measures and competition all increase quality in the delivery of services and ensure organisations are answerable to government

The report, which is titled Working together: Lessons from Government-Private sector collaboration during the pandemic, also makes three policy recommendations. Firstly, it calls for governments to build on their use of external expertise – from the private sector, as well as academia – which has been vital to responding to the pandemic, from the development of vaccines to the implementation of public health measures. It says that applying the same approach in other areas of public services could see international best-practice brought to the design and delivery of UAE government services, benefiting citizens and residents.

Secondly, the report calls for a better understanding of the benefits external suppliers bring to government in terms of flexibility. Often used as a temporary or emergency measure, the longer-term efficiencies that can be gained by effectively leveraging external suppliers could extend beyond the pandemic, the report says. For example, services which do not have a consistent rate of demand can benefit from having a supplier who can scale up and down delivery as and when it is required.

Finally, the report calls for the relationships between government and industry developed during the pandemic to be formalised through supplier frameworks, forums and other channels. These could allow government-business partnerships to be more resilient and effective going forward.

Serco Middle East CEO Phil Malem added:

“There is an opportunity to take those new and impactful working practices forward post-pandemic. From reducing costs, to increasing innovation, the relationship between the government and private sector has proved to have many benefits during the crisis.

“As we emerge into the ‘new normal’, both government and the private sector must now work together to embed the positive practices and important lessons of the last 18 months into their everyday operations outside of the health emergency.”

Read the full report here - https://www.serco.com/media/6643/covid-19-public-private-collaboration-uae.pdf?1627386834