Transparency in public sector contracts is not just about open accounting but open communication

The CBI has claimed there needs to be greater transparency in public sector contracts to improve accountability – but has laid blame for the secrecy round existing contracts at the feet of government rather than the private sector companies appointed to deliver services. According to the CBI, its members – which include the holders of large government contracts such as Capita, G4S and Serco – would be happy to see open book accounting to make sure there was a clearer picture about what contractors are doing and how they are delivering their contractual obligations.

The CBI’s recommendations, reported in the Financial Times, are an effort to tackle widespread suspicion at the outsourcing of government services and follow numerous high profile examples of private contractors being pilloried for their performance. The ability of government departments to manage large-scale contracts has also regularly been questioned, but private sector contractors have often become lightning rods for criticism when things go wrong or the value of their services is challenged.

The need for transparency in the delivery of such contracts is clear, but an open book approach needs to extend beyond accounting and to private sector contractors’ wider communications and stakeholder engagement. With the advent of social media and online news, the smallest problems can quickly escalate into full-blown crises, and those businesses not communicating what they’re doing with regularity to government officials, constituency MPs, members of Select Committees and the public can quickly find themselves in hot water – as can government departments responsible for the tendering of contracts.

Mitigating the potential risks means businesses delivering public services cannot afford to work within a vacuum and must reconcile their contractual obligations with public affairs and PR activity to make sure that their successes in delivering contracts are being communicated. Otherwise all the public, politicians and decision makers will hear is bad news.


Chris Rogers