By Richard Clayton QC

Austerity Britain is shrinking the public sector and accelerating the process of contracting out services. However, the legal protections contracting out gives to service users are piecemeal and inadequate, raising very real concerns about how findings of unlawfulness are to be addressed.

For example, the Care Act 2014 was designed through s 79 so local authorities could delegate its functions under the 2014 Act, as well as delegating aftercare services under s 117 of the Mental Health Act 1983. In February 2015 Northamptonshire County Council decided to outsource all its services, cutting 4000 staff, leaving 150 in-house and creating a community interest company to undertake all council services. Surrey County Council has just announced that it has saved £8m in six months by renegotiating contracts with suppliers, including IT businesses, building firms and transport companies, and that work by its procurement and other teams meant the Council has delivered £33m in savings in the last 18 months.

However, as the Local Government Ombudsman recently warned, local authorities can contract out services, but still remain responsible for their quality, and must deal with any complaints service users may have: This accountability remains irrespective of whether the provider is a private company, a third sector organisation or another publicly-funded body.

This article was first published on the Constitutional Law Blog on 30th Nov 2015 (available at

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Richard Clayton KC