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2020
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Insourcing, outsourcing or backsourcing? The case of the Brussels Regional administration

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Jonathan de Wilde d’Estmael, Elise Dermine, Nick Deschacht, Nicola Francesco Dotti, Kelly Huegaerts, Barbara Janssens, Maria Cecilia Trionfetti and Christophe Vanroelen, published on July 6, 2020. Read the article.

The term outsourcing refers to a basic trend observed since the 1980s in public administrations and private companies. Activities necessary for their operation, such as computer maintenance, security, catering and cleaning, are no longer carried out in-house, but are subcontracted to specialised private companies. This trend now seems to have reached a turning point, and in some countries and organisations there is a reverse movement to (re)integrate some of these activities, which is referred to as insourcing or backsourcing. Issue 145 of Brussels Studies examines these phenomena by analysing the practices and positions of several large public administrations in Brussels with regard to outsourcing and the possibility of reintegrating these functions within them. Written by eight authors working in several disciplines from different universities, the text presents the main results of a research project supervised by the Brussels Studies Institute.

What is the situation among regional public administrations? What is the current trend, for which types of activity in particular, and what are the reasons behind it? What are the internal consequences of possible backsourcing in terms of work organisation, and what are the consequences for these workers, most of whom work in low-skilled jobs? To answer these questions, the authors undertook an extensive review of the documentation produced by the administrations selected as case studies, and gathered the viewpoints of their directors, human resources managers and union representatives.

What emerges from the study is that the Brussels administrations follow the trend observed in neighbouring countries, although no particular situation can be reduced entirely to another, according to internal organisational methods. Faced with the strengthening of social and environmental clauses in subcontracting contracts and questions regarding the actual long-term economic advantage, there has been some reflection on the reintegration of certain tasks. Today, the most frequently outsourced activities are related to security, cleaning and gardening.

The backsourcing of these activities is one of the solutions put forward to improve the working conditions of workers who are often low-skilled, dependent on flexible contracts and who perform arduous tasks. However, the authors identify three obstacles to this reintegration of functions necessary for administrations. Firstly, the researchers point out that working conditions for an activity are not necessarily better when it is integrated into the public service. Secondly, the backsourcing of these operations would require an adaptation of the recruitment framework and employment contracts (atypical working hours, seasonal fluctuations, etc.). Finally, the last obstacle is undoubtedly political: it now seems much more acceptable to allocate considerable budgets to outsourcing than to ensure the long-term financing of these functions through additional hiring within administrations.

References
Jonathan de Wilde d’Estmael, Elise Dermine, Nick Deschacht, Nicola Francesco Dotti, Kelly Huegaerts, Barbara Janssens, Maria Cecilia Trionfetti and Christophe Vanroelen, “Insourcing, outsourcing or backsourcing? The case of the Brussels Regional administration”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 145, 6 July 2020. URL: https://journals.openedition.org/brussels/4843
Contact
Tatiana Debroux, Editor in chief:
tdebroux[at]brusselsstudies.be

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