Laura Tenison is founder and owner of JoJo Maman Bebe, the mother-and-baby products retailer. She employs 300 staff and has 30 UK stores. She is the winner of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award.
What she said yesterday highlights the dangers of a rush to outsourcing as departments, agencies and public authorities seek to make savings in the wake of the Spending Review.
She said that there is a skills shortage and a need for more vocational training. "Putting people through degrees they won't necessary want to take hasn't helped. The Government's apprenticeship scheme should help if it isn't too bureaucratic.
"I have trying to take on some apprentices but it is very difficult to get them. There are a lot of hoops to jump through.
"You have to go through government agencies. You cannot even go direct to anyone any more. You have to go through an agency that has no government employees. It is subcontracted to someone else.
"So while we have half-a-million job cuts in the public sector there will be knock-on effects."
A few hours before Tenison spoke it emerged that a government subcontractor - an agency nurse - had accidentally switched off a patient's ventilator, causing brain damage. The outsourcing of NHS work to an agency clouded responsibility for the accident.
Regulation of Gov't subcontractors worse than useless?
Was it the fault of the nurse, her lack of training, the agency for allocating a nurse who didn't understand the equipment, or the NHS for outsourcing such a vital public service?
Regulation was worse than useless. The Care Quality Commission, the health care regulator, had recently awarded Ambition 24hours the top score of three stars in an assessment of the agency’s service quality. Ambition 24hours was the agency that employed Violeta Aylward, the nurse that turned off the ventilator of patient Jamie Merrett.
The Care Quality Commission said of Ambition 24hours: “Of particular note are recruitment and selection procedures which are comprehensive and rigorous... The agency tells us that they do not send nurses out unless they are confident of their competence to manage the assignment.”
Who's responsible when outsourced IT services fall down? - nobody
When IT services are contracted out does this also cloud responsibility for accidents and incidents? If outsourcing makes things worse who can be held accountable? It's strikingly unclear who is responsible for problems with the IBM £400m deal at Southwest One, and the 11-year joint venture between BT and Liverpool County Council - the contractors or the public authorities for outsourcing?
Cutting without large-scale outsourcing
There are ways to make spending cuts without making public services worse by wholesale outsourcing. These are some suggestions - with help from Mike Simons, Editor, Computerworld UK:
- Simplify government business processes before you automate
- End lock-in by some major suppliers
- Proposed changes in legislation should be approved only if they are technically feasible at a reasonable price.
- Enforce standardisation, and the use of G-Cloud where possible. Where an application or service is non-standardised, the justification should be published in full.
- Have a simple rule: No transparency, no contract.
- Provide public capital for projects
- Nurture some open-source alternatives to proprietary software
- With few exceptions don't pay more than £500 each for millions of government desktops. The current benchmark price, suggests Gartner, is about £1,800 [total cost of ownership] per desktop in government.
- Strengthen the role of the Government CIO to include the power of mandation.
IBM-led SAP business model makes loss - this blog
Should Barnet follow the example of Southwest One? - Barnet Unison
Southwest One councils charged by auditors - Local Government Chronicle