The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Oliver Dowden)
I have been asked to respond on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
As I have said repeatedly to the House, the Government are not responsible for decisions taken by companies in the private sector. What the Government are responsible for is the continued delivery of public services, and I assure the House that has happened in this case. Schools continue to be cleaned, roads continue to be repaired and improved, and services in Government buildings continue to run as normal.
I reassure hon. Members that nothing in Interserve’s refinancing will affect the delivery of public services. No staff have lost jobs and no pensions have been affected. The company has executed a contingency plan that it had prudently developed in case shareholders rejected the proposed refinancing deal. This was a pre-agreed transaction, known as a “pre-pack” administration. Hundreds of pre-pack administrations are performed every year, including by well-known companies. It is a well-established and normal process, typically used when a shareholder is blocking a business’s restructuring.
To be clear, the operating companies responsible for the delivery of all Interserve’s services, public and private, have remained wholly unaffected. As a result of shareholders failing to reach agreement on the proposed refinancing, the parent company—Interserve plc—was put into administration. The operating companies, the companies that actually deliver the services, were then almost immediately purchased by a new company, Interserve Group Ltd.
This new company has been considerably strengthened. It now has a much stronger balance sheet, £110 million of additional cash and a greatly reduced debt burden. It is in taxpayers’ interest to have a well-financed and stable group of suppliers, so this has been a positive outcome for the company’s customers, supply chain and employees.
I am clear on the benefits of outsourcing. Working with the private sector allows us to access expertise and economies of scale that can help us to deliver more innovative public services at better value for the taxpayer. As I have said before, this Government are driven by what works, not by political dogma, and the evidence is clear. Research shows that outsourcing delivers savings of between 20% and 30% compared with bringing services in-house.
However, we recognise there is more we can do to improve how we outsource. We have learned from the collapse of Carillion, and we are implementing changes to our procurement and commercial processes, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I have set out in several speeches. For example, we have published “The Outsourcing Playbook”, which was developed with industry and outlines a range of measures designed to ensure that outsourcing projects succeed.
We are now asking suppliers of critical contracts to provide detailed information to help to mitigate any risk to service delivery in the rare event of corporate failure. These “living wills” are now being piloted by five strategic suppliers, including Interserve. We are taking action on prompt payment, including excluding suppliers from Government procurement if they cannot demonstrate prompt payment to their supply chain. We are also taking steps on embedding social value in Government procurement, and I launched the consultation last week.
These sensible and prudent steps will help us to ensure that we get procurement right first time, that we identify and remedy financial risks to Government services and that we manage taxpayers’ money in a way that achieves the best value for money. Indeed, the fact we had ongoing engagement with Interserve throughout this process, through our Crown representatives and the Government commercial function, demonstrates the strength of the Government’s approach to managing our strategic suppliers.
Once again, although the corporate structure of Interserve changed on Friday, I reassure all hon. Members that public service delivery remains wholly unchanged. No jobs have been lost, no pensions have been affected and no services have been disrupted.