Interserve: are we going all Carillion again?

The Daily Record and others are going overboard on what’s going on at Interserve, another troubled public sector outsourcing company in trouble. Inevitably people are saying they’re reminded of Carillion, and we’d really hoped those images were going to go away.

So here’s a quick view. First, every company is different. The idea that these instances share anything in common except perhaps poor oversight (we’re completely open to that possibility) is overstated.

Second, however, here’s a quick thing that nobody ever says, but it’s potentially important. About 25 years ago, your editor’s spouse had her job transferred to a major outsourcing company. When he asked what they did, she replied “they take big bits of service away from the public sector and aim to do it more efficiently” or words to that effect, nobody was writing this stuff down.

“What, they just do anything?” came the reply. “Not knowing what they do for a living? Who on earth thought that was a good idea?”

Apparently Interserve, which offers construction, facilities management and a great deal more (in another life the editor encountered them as suppliers of school dinners).

The outsourcing sector is well established. This website and the accompanying publication tends to focus on the technological side, because we do know what we do for a living. This idea of “we do more or less everything”, however, has sprung up over the years and our quarter-of-a-century-old question still stands: if you do just about everything, how can you specialise in anything?


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