The CBI’s latest report Public-private partnerships: lessons from COVID-19 celebrates the successful partnerships between government and industry that have helped tackle the pandemic and ensure communities have had continued access to vital public services. Building on dozens of case studies from UK businesses, the report argues that there are lessons to be learnt from the challenges and opportunities seen during COVID-19 that could serve to make public contracting even stronger in the future.
Making public contracting better for businesses
The report draws out several specific recommendations covering a wide variety of practices, from encouraging new suppliers to streamlining procurement processes. The aim of these recommendations is to carry forward some of the best practices seen during COVID-19 as the UK builds back better, whilst also further driving the changes needed for those elements which have proved challenging to public contracts in recent months.
Public and private sectors working together
Across the UK, businesses support the public sector in a variety of ways, from SMEs supplying vital goods to local authorities, to international industry leaders delivering high quality public services which the public sector cannot do itself. The pandemic has highlighted the necessity of these partnerships, not only to help the country rapidly deliver solutions to some of the most pressing problems raised, but also to ensure the continuity of vital services despite the confusion of the pandemic.
For the government, making the most of these partnerships remains a critical part of their agenda to deliver the best public services possible. Several policies in recent years have sought to do that, including the guidance laid out in the Outsourcing Playbook, and the growing emphasis on social value to maximise the benefits gained from these partnerships. During the pandemic, the use of Procurement Policy Notes (PPNs) provided further clarity and guidance, helping firms to carry out procurements as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Businesses across the country are also invested in supporting the public sector to the best of their abilities. From long-time partners who have worked with government to help deliver multi-year programmes, to first-time suppliers who rushed to provide assistance when COVID-19 emerged, many businesses are keen to ensure that these partnerships are continued going forward.
How businesses can learn from the pandemic
The Cabinet Office has worked hard to improve public-private partnerships in recent years, and many of these reforms have been vital to the good procurements and contract management seen during COVID-19. Yet the pandemic has also highlighted that there are areas for improvement.
There are lessons in four main categories for public-private partnerships which would provide significant, long-term benefits if embedded into broader procurement policies:
- Widening public sector markets to encourage new market entrants and support existing suppliers to support the public sector in new ways
- Simplifying procurements by removing unnecessary red-tape and focusing on outcomes, speed, and flexibility
- Building strong relationships arranged around open and collaborative dialogue involving all stakeholders
- Supporting innovation and long-term thinking by encouraging effective contract management and ongoing support for partnerships.
For businesses, these areas of change could provide significant opportunities for greater work with the public sector. Furthermore, by understanding how businesses have worked with government successfully in the past, industry can be more fully prepared to win public contracts going forward.
To discuss the report or learn more, please contact Dr Joshua Pritchard.