The Government is improving the way it manages outsourced public services but precarious reforms could still fail, according to our report. Building Commercial Capability in Government argues that the civil service put in place sound plans to address poor management of commercial contracts, but reforms are still vulnerable if not properly sustained. The next three years in particular are vital to ensuring success.

High-profile scandals in government contracting, most notably with Serco and G4S, revealed weaknesses in government’s management of its suppliers, and the report welcomes attempts by the civil service to turn things around. Ultimately it is taxpayers and citizens who suffer badly when government underfunds or overpays providers, gives work to incapable organisations, or fails to ensure users can have a say in their services. And polling shows that 53% of people think that when something goes wrong with contracted public services, no one takes responsibility.

The report acknowledges that the challenges of this type of reform are immense. Previous attempts often tailed off before they could deliver results. In many cases, short-term priorities diverted attention. In others, Cabinet Office and departmental leaders failed to work together to reinforce changes. But this drive to improve must not be allowed to fade, argues the report. The next three years are make or break, and civil service leaders need to concentrate on ensuring these reforms are fully understood by everyone who works in a commercial role in government.

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