Britain’s biggest outsourcing groups are to pool their workforces to ensure the delivery of public sector contracts in an unprecedented move to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
Sky News has learnt that the Cabinet Office, which manages the government’s relationship with companies such as Capita and Serco, has told the industry that it wants to create a “clearing house” through which furloughed employees of one business could be redeployed on a contract managed by a rival.
The move, which could be implemented within days, would be designed to ensure the continuity of service delivery in hospitals and prisons at a time when contractors’ workforces face severe reductions through illness and self-isolation.
Whitehall sources said on Thursday night that the Cabinet Office had briefed outsourcers on plans for the staff pooling system this week.
Other companies involved in the initiative include Interserve and Mitie.
It would echo elements of co-operation within sectors such as the food retail industry, where competition law has formally been suspended to enable greater co-operation between supermarkets at a time of huge strain on their supply chain.
The Competition and Markets Authority has said that it will be more flexible about collaboration between industry rivals during the pandemic but has warned companies not to exploit temporary relaxations of its regime.
The Cabinet Office’s move to pool outsourcers’ workforces comes within days of it warning the industry that it needed to be better prepared for a wave of absenteeism among teams responsible for working on critical national infrastructure projects.
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In a memo sent last week seen by Sky News, officials told outsourcers to disclose their readiness for an average of 21% of their workforces to be away from work during a projected 16-week outbreak of the infection.
“We would like all suppliers to consider minimum number of staff required to deliver services on gold contracts and prioritisation of Key Performance Indicators and Service Level Agreements based on criticality of services and vulnerability of service users,” it said.
None of the outsourcers would comment on the pooling plan on Thursday.