From the TUC

On the march with the voucher army

17 Nov 2009, by in Economics, Public services

It probably won’t come as a great surprise to hear the TUC is a pretty good employer – it sort of has to be. One of the employment benefits we get here is the offer of Childcare Vouchers – the scheme that the Government may (or may not) be about to curtail in favour of providing more free places for two year olds from poorer families.

Regardless of the merits of either policy (TUC view here if you’re interested), I’ve been interested in one related development this week. I got an email from Accor, the voucher scheme service provider, but rather than being a usual statement of my account, it’s a bit of a call to action.

Accor want to campaign to keep the scheme running. Hardly surprising that – it’s a very big contract for them that they’ve invested a lot to take on. They’re encouraging parents who use their scheme to sign the petition on the Number 10 website, and to send them personal stories about vouchers that they plan to use in a PR campaign. The outcry so far seems to having an effect – the petition currently stands just short of a whopping 85,000 names.

This is a situation born directly out of the private management of a state benefit scheme. By outsourcing the delivery of the scheme, the Government has inadvertently created a powerful voice for the new status quo. Traditionally state-administered schemes such as Working Families’ Tax Credits wouldn’t have an interest in (or capacity for) rebelling and mobilising their beneficiaries if their relevant department believe they’ve found a better/fairer/cheaper way to do things.

This is hardly US health reform territory of course in terms of entrenched provider interest in a system, but could it suggest that an increase in outsourcing administration of large public services contracts will have the effect of disproportionately limiting a government’s room for manoeuvre on that subject in the future?

3 Responses to On the march with the voucher army

  1. Antonia
    Nov 18th 2009, 12:03 am

    Exactly the same thing happened with those in receipt of the vouchers who work for Oxford University. I found the email from the provider quite difficult – especially as it was quite political.

  2. John Wood
    Nov 18th 2009, 9:46 am

    Cheers Antonia. Yes, I’d looked at it from the perspective that if people are worried now about Sir Humphrey Appleby’s ability to stall change, even he would likely be outclassed by the resources of the marketing department of a services multinational like Accor, but you’re right – it’s also handing a direct communications channel to your stakeholders to a potentially political actor, and then cutting it off for yourself.

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