Dame Margaret Hodge in conversation with Professor Carolyn Heinrich

Dame Margaret Hodge MP, Professor Carolyn Heinrich
Event date
Event time
17:30 - 18:30
Blavatnik School of Government (in-person and online)
Walton Street
Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
Disabled access?
Booking required

In this session, Professor Carolyn Heinrich will discuss the challenge of holding public-private partnerships to account with Dame Margaret Hodge. This public talk is a timely discussion, aimed at helping reconcile collaboration and accountability in a way that can inform better practice.

The conversation will draw on Dame Margaret’s experiences during her five years as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee to explore the challenges of contracting out public services, as well as broader issues of public accountability and its importance to maintaining trust in government. Together with an in-person and online audience, they will consider how advances in the state of the art of public sector contracting might help or hinder accountability, and ultimately how we can ensure public-private partnerships better deliver for the citizens they serve.

Public-private partnerships are an inevitable part of 21st century public services. But if they are to maintain the trust of the citizens they serve, we need to ensure they deliver what they are supposed to, and are held to account when they do not. Recent years have seen the best and worst of collaboration between governments and partners in the private and not-for-profit sectors. Our response to COVID-19 saw public healthcare systems pull together with private companies and universities to rapidly develop and deploy a life-saving vaccination programme, aided by civil society in reaching and supporting the most marginalised and vulnerable members of society.

But it also saw great failures. The emergency acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE – a significant amount of which was unusable) bypassed procurement procedures, leaving serious concerns about probity and value-for-money. These challenges are not new, nor are they unique to the COVID response. From buying aircraft carriers and armoured vehicles to probation services and employment support, Governments’ efforts to deliver complex goods and services have often failed (Hodge, 2016). Ultimately, these failures mean that taxpayers’ money is wasted, citizens are left underserved, and the public’s trust in government is undermined.

Increasingly, there is a recognition amongst scholars and practitioners that for the most complex public services – such as those supporting people experiencing homelessness to find stable accommodation, or people with mental health conditions into jobs – our traditional approach to public contracting often doesn’t work. We need a more flexible, collaborative approach which can facilitate joint problem solving and adaptation to meet the needs of service users and society. However, this more “relational” approach also raises questions for public accountability. If the deliverables of a contract change over time, what precisely ought we hold partnerships to account for? If responsibility is shared between the members of a partnership, who do we hold to account?