Capita’s Growth Conference, and the public/private sector

I spoke at Capita’s Growth Conference on Monday in Manchester, which was a fascinating opportunity.  The company has gone through some turmoil in the past couple of years, along with most of the other outsourcing companies with whom local authorities and the wider public sector do business.  It matters to us in Staffordshire County Council because we have a Joint Venture with Capita in Entrust, delivering our education support services, along with some other capabilities.  We also have relationships with many other commercial partners, and they have been hit by the same issues.

Regular readers will remember my comments that we need a better narrative on our relationships with the private sector than the polarised pendulum swinging between “Public Good, Private Bad” and “Private Good, Public Bad”.  We are fortunate that we seem to have stopped the pendulum in Staffordshire at a point where we recognise that the public sector are better at some things and the private sector at others.  For instance, I would be amazed if any private sector company took on a complete children’s service, as the risks, both financially and reputationally, are almost unlimited.  On the other hand, where we only do things on a relatively small scale, such as our Waste to Energy plant at Four Ashes, it makes sense to engage a partner, such as Veolia, who focusses on this activity and does it many times across Europe – they can build expertise on a scale that we cannot. 

So it was good to listen to Jon Lewis and his team talk about the future direction of Capita, and it struck me that, under his leadership of just over a year, they have moved much more closely to the public sector in terms of social responsibility; I was struck by their Head of Sustainable Development talking about their values and standards – I wouldn’t have heard that 5 years ago.  At the same time, the best public sector organisations, and I would count SCC in that cohort, have become much capable commercially.  It means that the conversations that we are having are different, more informed and a meeting of like minds.  I would predict that the big outsourcing deals are a thing of the past, and we will be working with partners such as Capita on more distinct activities where they have the technical skills and scale that we do not.  It’s a new approach, and I, for one, regard it as a positive move.

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One Response to “Capita’s Growth Conference, and the public/private sector”

  1. Dominic Davidson says:

    Hello John,
    My team and our unit rely upon Capita ONE software to underpin many of our day to day activities. Whilst they may possess the technical skills, working with them to try to develop functionality, address glaring software bugs and so on is nothing short of utterly frustrating. Their responsiveness to and willingness to recognise customer requirements is sadly lacking. As an example, I was involved in repeated discussions with them in an attempt to fix flaws in budget forecasting within the Transport module that we use. On several occasions their reason for inaction was “other authorities haven’t asked us for that” – I’m not sure that there is an LA in the country that wouldn’t want sound budget forecasting capability!

    Whatever happens, it is key that in our relationships with the private sector we build in the necessary protection to strongly hold them to account should it ever come to that. Within transport, all of our services are delivered by the private sector. By working with contractors and other external partners in the right way, but holding strongly to account where needed, we have undoubtedly seen an improvement in the standards of service delivery. The challenge in working with multi-national private sector partners is perhaps different though with the relative differences in scale and bargaining power.

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