Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You pay peanuts ......

In practical terms I've never quite understood the point of "outsourcing".

I understand the economic principle behind it - it costs x thousand pounds a year to employ someone to clean the office toilet and cleaning company y say they can do it for x minus 2 thousand pounds - so it makes sense economically.

But practically, you know damn well that cleaning company y can only do it cheaper if they either do it less often or employ someone even cheaper than you do - so don't be surprised when you find that your toilet only gets cleaned once a week and even when it does it still looks like the sort of toilet you spend hours squeezing your legs together to avoid using in foreign climes.

The simple fact is that if a company say they can do the same job for less, do it as well and still make a profit from it, they are lying. Forget all the claptrap about efficiencies or "economies of scale" the only way they can do it for less and still make a profit is by cutting corners somewhere.

Why am I wittering on about this? Well, this morning I had reason to visit my local NHS hospital - and a filthy hellhole it is too. The windows in places were so filthy it was barely possible to tell if the sun had come out. No wonder everyone in the ward looked so depressed - they probably haven't seen real daylight since they arrived!

A quick trip to the toilet reminded me of something from "Quatermass". Normally I hate the smell of disinfectant, but it would have been a welcome relief in that khasi. Back on the ward I soon realised why it is such a mess as a "cleaner" ambled into view with a trolley, flicked a mop, suitably moistened from a bucket full of filthy water, and slopped around the beds aimlessly for a few seconds before ambling off again. Somehow I doubt that they were going to change the water in their bucket.

No doubt this "outsourced" cleaning is saving the NHS millions each year in cleaning costs, but god alone knows what the knock on costs in treating hospital acquired infections are. I've no doubt either that the traditional Hattie Jacques style matron would have seared a few ears with some choice words if such matrons existed today - but equally I know that the contracting company would have pointed to the contract and demonstrated that the minimum level of service was being carried out as required.

They will have a minimum service level and they will work to that. The best you can hope for is the least you have asked for.

2 comments:

Gallimaufry said...

But the point of outsorcing is to cut costs. And the outsourcing company wants to maximize profits. This is what happens when a private company gets its sums wrong - the staff earn less and the owner wants to walk away:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/staffordshire/7522348.stm
People who claim the free market can do no wrong accuse public servants of being dinosaurs but aren't freemarketeers dinosaurs as well - velociraptors?

Stan said...

I guess I didn't make it clear in the post. I understand the economic principle - to save money - but as I was trying to argue it's usually a false economy. In the case of the NHS the poor state of the hospitals is a direct cause of hospital acquired infections which end up costing far more than they save by outsourcing the cleaning. If someone offers to do the job for less it must mean either doing it less well or less often.