Take volunteers seriously, urges guidance

Take volunteers seriously, urges guidance 


Heather Greig-Smith




Too often voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) are not considered “serious contenders” for public service contracts, according to a new guide published by the Home Office.


The good practice guide from the department’s Active Communities Unit calls for a change of approach to the sector by government decision-makers. “Too often the choice is between public and private sector solutions – and the potential contribution of the VCS is overlooked,” it says.


The document says that VCOs often find it difficult to break into the market because they lack knowledge of government procedures and the trend towards using large-scale contracts rules them out. It criticises the lack of a level playing field in procurement, particularly the unwillingness of some procurers to accept full cost recovery, including management charges, in VCOs’ tender prices.


These barriers are limiting the participation of VCS organisations and mean the benefits they bring are being missed, says the guide. It highlights established links with the community, an understanding of the needs of specific client groups, independence from institutional pressures and a willingness to innovate as benefits that VCOs can bring to public services.


The guide claims that much can be done to increase VCS competitiveness and engagement. It provides detailed guidance on better procurement strategies, tender documents, feedback and informal consultation with the VCS.


Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives, said it would be a “long and dusty road to contract reform”. He welcomed the guide as a statement of the Government’s intention to take contracting reform seriously, but questioned the difference such a document would make on the ground.


“We can all issue documents and give advice, but are the people on the ground and middle managers going to read it and take notice of it? That’s the issue,” he said.


Bubb said that VCS organisations need to be given the same treatment as the private sector. “If you’re dealing with long-term problems in communities, then you need to be getting into long-term relationships with your contracting partners,” he said. “The private sector insists on reasonable, long-term contracts and a balance of risk. We need the same approach for community and voluntary sector bodies.”


Think Smart: Think Voluntary Sector can be viewed at www.homeoffice.gov.uk  




The other side of the coin


A guide to help social economy organisations across Scotland bid for business opportunities from the public sector was launched this week.


The document is a step-by-step guide to public procurement and is designed to level the playing field for the social economy in gaining access to public sector contracts.


Commissioned by the Scottish Executive, the guide was written by Kevin Robbie, manager of one of Scotland’s leading social enterprises, Forth Sector. “Its focus is on helping organisations prepare for and deliver contracts more effectively rather than addressing any barriers that exist within the public procurement processes,” said Robbie


The guide includes checklists and a series of case studies from groups that have successfully bid for contracts.


At the same time an online procurement prospectus (www.buyethic.com) was launched, outlining the goods and services the social economy can supply.


Tendering for Public Sector Contracts is available at www.socialeconomyscotland.info  


Source: Regeneration & Renewal magazine