The Union wallonne des entreprises suggests outsourcing public service missions to increase the share of private employment in Wallonia. This is already happening and the companies concerned are ready to step up the process.
When you get on a Tec bus, you have a one in three chance of traveling in a private vehicle. The Tec indeed grants the operation of a series of regular lines to 28 private companies, which carry out more than 34,000 km per year on behalf of the public company, that is to say 35% of the total of its regular lines. “There are therefore still possibilities to increase the share of services on regular lines by the private sector and we are of course ready to take up the challenge, specifies Louis Eloy, head of regular services at the Belgian Federation of Bus Operators and coaches (FBAA). New services – in particular fast lines – are regularly put on the market and entrusted to the private sector.”
When you get on a Tec bus, you have a one in three chance of traveling in a private vehicle. The Tec indeed grants the operation of a series of regular lines to 28 private companies, which carry out more than 34,000 km per year on behalf of the public company, that is to say 35% of the total of its regular lines. “There are therefore still possibilities to increase the share of services on regular lines by the private sector and we are of course ready to take up the challenge, specifies Louis Eloy, head of regular services at the Belgian Federation of Bus Operators and coaches (FBAA). New services – in particular fast lines – are regularly put on the market and entrusted to the private sector.” This example, the Union wallonne des entreprises would like to see repeated. In a recent Position paper, it invites public authorities to outsource services that can be outsourced to focus on sovereign or strategic missions. “This is not an ideological position but a proven logic, says Olivier de Wasseige, CEO of UWE. Why does a company entrust the cleaning of its offices to a private company? Why does a factory do manufacture certain parts elsewhere? Why do banks sometimes have a hundred IT specialists seconded from specialized firms? Because it is more efficient.” This outsourcing already exists in many areas. Private companies provide training on behalf of Forem, control urban parking, collect household waste for intermunicipal companies or, this is the most financially significant, carry out public works. “In local authorities, it is not especially in development, analyzes Mathieu Lambert, adviser to the Union of cities and municipalities of Wallonia. The use of the private sector is above all for specialized services, such as the operation of “a catering establishment on a tourist site. You have to attract visitors, look for new things, etc., it’s a very commercial approach.” Sometimes the municipality will opt for a service concession (the private sector operates an infrastructure made available) or, more often, for a works concession. The private partner builds the infrastructure and is then remunerated for its operation. The economic risk is then transferred to the shoulders of the private operator, which logically implies remuneration for this risk and therefore a higher price. “The price of tranquility is one of the elements on which the local power will choose to call on the private sector or not, adds Mathieu Lambert. We can compare this to the household which opts for leasing rather than buying a car.” The final decision is a political choice: some municipalities have a maintenance service for parks and gardens, others do not. Most cities entrust parking control to private firms but Namur maintains it in the public domain, Christmas markets and other occasional events are sometimes subcontracted, sometimes organized directly by the city, etc. There are also, it seems, hybrid formulas with a public meal preparation and delivery service (often via the CPAS), run by a chef seconded from a collective catering company. What are the reasons for entrusting the execution of public service missions to companies? The price does not necessarily make the difference, nor even the price of tranquility mentioned by the Union of towns and municipalities. The decisive element is often the need for specific skills that must be amortized over a volume of activities. “You have to take into account the notion of agility: we only use the service when we need it, says Olivier de Wasseige. On a unit basis, the service may sometimes be more expensive, but we should not maintain a team. throughout the year for a series of one-off interventions.” Collaboration can also provide useful expertise to public authorities. Let’s take the example of waste collection and treatment, a public mission often carried out with private partners who have equipment that a municipality or an intermunicipal company cannot always afford. “A group like ours also provides a complete environmental offer (waste, energy, water), confides Philippe Tychon, COO of Veolia-Belux’s waste activities. We offer digital data management (linked to the collection and sorting of waste ), which allow all types of analysis and in particular the optimization of processes.” When the story goes well, the private sector does not intervene “in place” of the public but “with” it, in a real partnership. Philippe Tychon cites here the example of the Val’Up center (Ghlin), designed by the intermunicipal companies Idea and Ipalle, with the Veolia and Vanheede groups, inaugurated last spring. Val’Up carries out an automated sorting of 14 streams of waste from PMC bags, with a level of purity of more than 98%, then allowing the recycling of the various materials. Another partnership is that of Reno+, through which the Public Service of Wallonia, the GreenWin competitiveness cluster and Embuild (Construction Federation) will together carry out the energy renovation of one million homes in 30 years. “The public could not do this alone, but the private sector could not do it either without public support, concedes Françis Carnoy, general manager of Embuild-Wallonia. All the owners concerned will be contacted. wary of private companies, especially when it comes to the granting of bonuses. This is why we are setting up a huge public-private partnership to carry out this challenge over the long term.” Olivier de Wasseige is convinced of the “multiplier effect” of public orders for companies. This increases their volume of business and therefore allows economies of scale that will make companies more competitive. “Ensuring public service missions is also a reference that they can use to obtain other contracts, he continues. We often complain about the too small size of Walloon companies, so let’s use the lever of business with the public sector to make them grow, to give them the means to invest, innovate or export to new markets.” These cascading effects, however, mean that the markets go to regional companies, which is not always the case with European tenders. “When the Province of Hainaut closed its provincial printing works, recalls Philippe Destatte, president of the Jules Destrée Institute, a think tank dedicated to Wallonia, this mainly benefited printing works in Italy, Poland or further afield and not especially to private printers in Hainaut.” To avoid this, Françis Carnoy recommends refining the criteria for awarding contracts, by weighing the impact of the “price” factor in the comparison of offers. “We must also improve local sourcing, including in supply, he says. I don’t know if local is the municipality, the region, the country or Europe, but let’s avoid buying blue stone from China.” The reflection of the Union wallonne des entreprises is based on a budgetary observation: regional finances no longer make it possible to maintain such a level of public expenditure. Delegating a series of missions to the private sector would allow the public sphere to function by reducing its workforce by a third, estimates the employers’ organization. “This may be the long-term objective, but let’s not put the cart before the horse, specifies Françis Carnoy. We must first make the administration more efficient, for example by accelerating the computerization of public procurement or permit procedures of town planning, before reducing the workforce. How can this administration be made more efficient? Perhaps starting by reducing ministerial cabinets. The Belgian bureaucratic inflation stems in fact from the mistrust between the cabinets and the administration. The Minister considers the administration politicized and therefore prefers to hire collaborators (about forty in Wallonia, but the observation is largely valid for the other entities of the country) rather than risk seeing his projects blocked by civil servants of another color Politics. At the end of the legislature, employees often find a post in the administration – many of them are seconded – and this rotation will maintain the suspicion of the next minister. To stop the vicious circle, the UWE proposes to limit the cabinets to five collaborators and to trust the expertise of the administration for the technical aspects of the files. “We are not asking for this for 2024, it will take time to have a less politicized administration, more neutral juries for recruitment and promotions, concedes Olivier de Wasseige. But it is a useful development to strengthen the role of the administration. .” “The administration is not valued enough, abounds Philippe Destatte. Politics turns on itself with cabinets where we do not have the memory of things. Too often, the administration is not even invited around the table. Recognizing its skills and giving it back its independence would save Wallonia a lot of time and money.” The president of the Destrée Institute also suggests strengthening the authority of the general manager over the entire Public Service of Wallonia (SPW). “The organization is too fragmented, each minister considers the general manager of his department or departments as ‘his’ general manager, he says. There is no autonomy. Such management in a company would lead directly into the wall.” Olivier de Wasseige also wants to review the management, with less burdensome hierarchical layers, as well as the status of civil servants. “We must move towards mixed statuses, where people would be civil servants part of the week and employed in the private sector or self-employed the other part, he says. This would make it possible to meet the crying needs in training and education. . People at the end of their career but also young people would like these mixed careers. It is urgent to promote bridges between statuses.” “The call for the private sector would make it possible to increase the volume of training in trades in shortage, adds Françis Carnoy (Embuild). This already exists but these formulas must be extended to attract young people to the construction trades.”