Jack Sutcliffe is the chair of Hackney Conservatives.
Photograph: courtesy Jack Sutcliffe

Dear Editor,

I wanted to write in response to the article published on 11 May, which shamefully blasts the private sector and their role in supporting Her Majesty’s Government.

Both Cllr Kennedy and Cat Hobbs were extremely quick to pounce on a mistake from a private sector operator during these difficult times. I do not doubt a mistake was made and thankfully the tests were still carried out. It is, however, worth paying tribute to the support offered by the private sector during these difficult times. We should be celebrating their efforts for the reasons I outline below.

Firstly, building new departments and hiring people within the public sector is a costly and time consuming exercise. We are living through a very fluid situation and speed has been critical in building up our capabilities. One should stop to ask themselves, how long it would have taken the public sector to hire people for the same function. A job advert must be placed, interviews conducted, offers made/accepted, background checks undertaken, all before the first day. This is all before getting to know new team members, agreeing working practices and beginning the actual job at hand. I would ask you to think back to your first day working for a new organisation. Were you as good on day one as on day 100? The private sector gives us speed and agility so often lacking in the public sector. Arguing that the public sector could have put together a similar organization on a national level in a quicker fashion is ridiculous.

Secondly, thanks to the private sector the government has been able to ramp up testing from a standing start. When an NHS lab was experiencing difficulties the UK Government flew 50,000 tests to an American facility in order to have them processed. Should the tests have waited in the UK until capacity was available? Or should the samples be tested as quickly as possible in order to give the results to those tested and try to contain the virus? Additionally, private hospitals have done a huge amount to support NHS capabilities, supplying much needed equipment and bed space during this time of crisis. Should we decline these offers because they are not in public ownership? For the past few weeks, I am sure I am not the only one who has seen heart-warming stories of small and large businesses across the UK supporting the national effort, breweries now making hand sanitizer, fashion houses gowns and vacuum cleaning companies producing ventilators. All further examples of how a dynamic private sector can complement the public sector.

A broader point lies in the economic makeup of the UK. Public sector contracts allow private businesses to flourish. Consider for a moment a school. Perhaps not so much in Hackney but across the country many school children take a private bus to school run through the school and outsourced to a local bus company. These contracts give the bus operator two runs per day five days per week.  Weekly residual income which no doubt supports businesses which in turn support families. The primary school I went to had six such buses. Should the drivers all be employees of the state? Hiring in a private organization in this sense is cheaper, more efficient and offers more stable work for those who actually drive the buses.

Too often the debate around outsourcing is considered in terms of black and white. The reality is far more nuanced. The private sector supports the public sector in wide variety of roles, plugging gaps in a quick and nimble way. To argue that any public service must be delivered by someone on the public payroll is frankly absurd. It is at times like this when we should be celebrating the private sector and not using them to score cheap political points.

Yours faithfully,

Jack Sutcliffe

Chairman of Hackney Conservatives


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