Outsourcing opacity is not a good idea
Our education, health and even policy making is being outsourced to the private sector. This is being done with undue haste and with far too few checks and balances put in place beforehand. There is a clear failure to consider the consequences in both the short and the long term.
Plenty has been written by people far more knowledgeable than me on this, I want to focus on a different and rather specific angle. But one that is no less important, that of the impact on transparency and strong democracy.
As we outsource a public service we appear to risk removing it from the checks and balances of good governance that we expect to have in place. Expensive corporate lawyers are able to run rings around under-resourced government departments, who often appear to be unaware of the consequences. Where contracts privilege commercial sensitivities over public rights, they can be used to exclude the provision of open data or to exempt the outsourcer from freedom of information (FoI) requests.
Whilst on the one hand we’re making great progress at opening up government, particularly from a data point of view, we run the serious risk that a bunch of people are coming along behind slamming the door shut again. And no one seems to have noticed.
It’s important that we have this debate in public. It’s important that we retain the data and accountability. It’s not acceptable that transparency is becoming the victim of ideology, economic expediency or short-term financial gain. It’s not acceptable that outsourced policy making is done by a think tank that refuses to disclose who funds it.
This has serious implications for the future state of our democracy.
We need to mandate a very clear principle. That is, where the service being delivered is a public service then the same principles apply whether it is delivered by government or the private sector (either charity or commercial). That means the same public scrutiny, accountability and transparency. No exceptions. No getting out of FoI. No closed data sets. And while we’re at it, no contracting out services to a business you own.
And if this affects your bottom line, tough, you’re in the wrong business. If this means you have to disclose all of your dodgy funders, tough, because until you do you’re ethically unfit for the job.