Outsourcing: This election's forgotten issue

We're on the verge of the largest back office outsourcing scheme ever - so why is there no debate?
Written by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, Contributor

We're on the verge of the largest back office outsourcing scheme ever - so why is there no debate?

In the first of a new series of columns for silicon.com, Mark Kobayashi-Hillary wonders why outsourcing is a forgotten subject in the run up to this year's general election.

It was with outsourcing in mind that I tuned in to the first British election leader debate last week. This was the first time that all the leaders of the three major political parties stood up live in front of the TV cameras as part of an election campaign.

Now, the tech news junkies among you will recall that a few weeks ago the Prime Minister was talking about his plans for creating a digital economy in the UK.

Naturally, most attention has been focused on broadband penetration and how to penalise illegal file-sharing, but Gordon Brown spelt out in some detail how Labour plans to shift large swathes of the public sector back office into the hands of private suppliers.

He said: "Take the back office. The government is committed to achieving £4bn of savings from back office functions by 2012-13. To drive this ambitious programme forward, we intend to establish a number of business service companies that will handle the routine back office functions of Whitehall departments."

The large-scale privatisation of the public sector back office has been open knowledge for a few months now, so why is nobody writing about it, commenting on it, or asking how it is going to work?

I agree that a joint venture shared services strategy is probably the way to go. It makes sense. But it still surprises me that British politicians have made outsourcing - and particularly offshoring - a major issue at the last couple of general elections, yet few are asking questions about the largest proposed scheme for back office outsourcing - ever.

In the US Presidential election, offshore outsourcing was constantly referred to, and the candidates made sure they had a position on the key issues of skills, training and keeping public sector jobs local. In the British leaders' debate last week, nobody even mentioned the topic, yet this was supposed to be the debate that focused on domestic policy.

offshoring outsourcing

Why is outsourcing a forgotten topic?
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The government has taken a very mature stance on offshoring, as I wrote about in a recent article for silicon.com.

They clearly see that the use of international resource can be deployed where needed, it won't be blocked entirely, but each project will be judged on its merits. That makes sense.

But in the swirling red mist of the 'British jobs for British workers' debate, how come nobody is talking about outsourcing anymore? Is it now such an inherent part of corporate strategy that it seems we have gone so far down the road, there is no way back?

I'm reminded of that old Sherlock Holmes story where the plot turned on a dog that didn't bark. It seems that in this general election, outsourcing is so far down the list of political issues and priorities, it's no longer barking at all.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of 'Who Moved my Job?' and 'Global Services'. He lectures at London South Bank University. www.markhillary.com

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