UCL Uncovering Politics

Governments and Private Sector Suppliers

Episode Summary

Our first episode of season 5 looks at relationships between governments and private sector suppliers. Why do they exist? What forms do they take? And how well do they work?

Episode Notes

Now, no one would claim that the subject of contracts between governments and private sector suppliers is all that sexy. But the last two years of the Covid crisis have certainly revealed its importance. In the earliest weeks of the pandemic back in 2020, governments around the world scrambled to secure enough PPE, hospital ventilators, and Covid tests. Then there was the race to buy up vaccines. In recent weeks, shortages of testing kits have been back in the headlines. Here in the UK, vaccine purchasing is held up as exemplary, while contracting for PPE remains mired in allegations of cronyism.

But controversies over government contracting are far from new. Debates about the merits – or otherwise – of the contracting out of public services and of public–private partnerships have been running for decades. And scandals over nepotism and revolving doors between the public and private sectors have been familiar for a lot longer than that. On the other hand, of course, many would say that close cooperation between governments and private sector suppliers has brought innumerable benefits.

We are joined today by Dr Eleanor Woodhouse who is a Lecturer in Public Policy in the UCL Department of Political Science and an expert in, among other things, public–private partnerships. In 2021, she published (with colleagues) a book with Cambridge University Press, called Partnership Communities: Public–Private Partnerships and Non-Market Infrastructure Development Around the World.

We are also joined by Alice Moore who is a PhD student in the UCL Department of Political Science. Her research investigates the role of trust and relationships in the delivery of outsourced public services and the effects on competition for public contracts and on the quality of the services provided. She’s also a Research Officer at the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation at the London School of Economics.