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Public service outsourcing : the implications of ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ for accountability and policymaking.

Eckersley, P. and Ferry, L. (2020) 'Public service outsourcing : the implications of ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ for accountability and policymaking.', Public money & management., 40 (1). pp. 72-80.


Outsourcing is difficult to define and trickier to measure. Despite transparency and procurement requirements, there are no comprehensive datasets detailing the extent to which English councils have contracted-out service provision. This lack of information, coupled with austerity pressures, has probably increased the number of ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ about the efficacy of this service delivery model. Such developments have significant implications for accountability, risk management and policy-making. We do not know enough about the extent of public service outsourcing: it is difficult to define and measure, and the datasets that exist are quite limited. Austerity cuts to back office functions probably mean that we know even less about it than before, at a time when major outsourcing companies are experiencing serious financial problems. Public bodies need to create a more detailed picture of their contractual relationships in order to inform future policy-making, hold suppliers to account effectively, and ensure that finances and services can be put on a sustainable footing in the event of collapse.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Public Money & Management on 11 September 2019 available online:
Date accepted:15 July 2019
Date deposited:18 July 2019
Date of first online publication:11 September 2019
Date first made open access:11 March 2021

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