The relentless move to contracting out over previous decades and the new focus on protecting frontline services mean that spending cuts will have a direct impact on facilities services and management, writes BIFM corporate and public affairs director Richard Byatt
16 September 2010
If we needed reminding how dependent large parts of private enterprise are on public spending, recent headlines have spelled it out: "Austerity hits private sector as contractors brace for £25bn of cuts", "Survey shows recovery in services slowing as cuts raise fears of double-dip recession", "Public sector suppliers go bust as spending cuts bite."
The relentless move to contracting out over previous decades and the new focus on protecting "frontline" services mean that spending cuts will have a direct and rapid impact on suppliers of facilities services and management.
The debate over public spending priorities has seen FM starting to feature in the media and not always in a positive light. The BBC's story that some NHS trusts are facing annual repayments accounting for more than 10 per cent of their turnover put the Private Finance Initiative back in the spotlight. This time the reporting did try to explain the complexities of PFI and avoid the misleading comparisons with conventional procurement that clouded earlier debate. However, the extent to which contracts can be 're-shaped' to more closely match requirements and budgets needs more exposure.
Still in the health sector, the (re-stated) aim to eliminate mixed-sex wards in older NHS hospitals and the lack of progress since 1996 prompted a representative of the Patients Association to point out on Radio 4's Today programme that, "there is conference after conference, exhibition after exhibition of facilities managers, that shows what can be done."
Other recent examples include the furore over the Audit Commission's FM costs, with the ritual denunciation of spending on office plants and allegations that the Department for Business Innovation & Skills is paying for empty office space.
The danger is that short-term cost-cutting becomes the only subject and arguments for improving the efficiency of space and services to achieve sustainable savings get crowded out.
The challenge for professional and industry groups, including the BIFM, is to bring more light, rather than heat, to these debates. Over coming months the Institute will be seeking the help of members to articulate the case that straitened times call for more and better facilities management.