The big-money game of outsourced employment services

Outsourcing isn’t always the answer, but it isn’t never the answer. Monday’s Four Corners investigation into employment services confirmed the structure of the relationship is ultimately key.

Outsourcing public services is a tricky business — but there is no doubt a “business” it has become. Billions of dollars in social services are delivered by other parties, under contract, to governments across Australia, the costs and benefits of which, we are often unsure of.

When to outsource, to whom, and how to structure these relationships remains a fundamental challenge in public management practice. Where the limits to outsourcing actually are is not an economic decision alone, but has both political and moral dimensions. What can, and should, be done by government and who should get to make a buck in the complex market for public services?

The enormous range of public services that governments provide means there is no easy answer, but some we might care more about than others. Do we really care who collects our rubbish or delivers our mail? Some may, some may not. But what about who runs prisons, operates detention centres, or places the unemployed into jobs?

Can we stomach, politically and morally, profits being made from the misery of others and how do we create performance and accountability systems to guard against exploitation?

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