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Martin Martin Gollan, Support and Development Manager

By quite some measure most the 166,000 plus voluntary sector organisations in the UK have little or nothing to do with delivery of public sector contracts. NCVOs Civil Society Almanac 2018 tell us that of the £15.3 billion in 2015/16 that went from the public sector to voluntary organisations most of it went to organisations with an annual income of £10 million or more. These charities make up a mere 0.43% of the total voluntary sector.

Delivery of public sector services might appear from these figures to be something of a minority pursuit and therefore unimportant to the rest of the voluntary sector. Except it’s the largest voluntary organisations that are most visible in the public eye and that when things go wrong can quickly easily find themselves under the media spotlight.

The actions of this small part of the sector can therefore have implications that reverberate well beyond the particular organisations involved. See for example Kids Company, its sudden and very public collapse and how that affected the reputation of the sector as a whole but also informed the review of the charity governance code.

It is this wide and significant impact that large organisations can have, combined with the continuing drive from commissioners and policy makers for voluntary sector delivery of public sector services that has informed Newcastle CVS’s latest paper.

Do We Need to Talk’ is intended as a thought piece and a prompt for debate and discussion. It that asks, what are the potential unintended consequences of procurement and contracting for voluntary organisations and are there inherent risks in a strategy based around public sector delivery?

The paper draws one recent reports and articles about the consequences of outsourcing public services for voluntary sector organisations. It also touches on recent examples, including that of Lifeline Project and Carillion, where a determined strategy of winning public sector contracts has ended in sudden and spectacular failure.

Is there something inherently hazardous in prioritising contract delivery? Does such a focus affect the decision making of senior managers, directors and trustees?

If the answer is yes then what might mitigate potential negative consequences? What is the role of Social Value? What is the role of roll local Compact’s? The paper also takes a quick tour of what is happening in Preston, Plymouth and Leeds as well as noting recent developments in Gateshead and Newcastle. All of these areas are seeing council’s and other partners attempting new approaches to procurement in ways that could benefit voluntary organisations.

Taking everything into account we offer our own thoughts on next steps but others may/will disagree with our conclusions. Others may question the whole basis of the paper. If that sparks debate and discussion about the place of public sector delivery within the voluntary sector, that’s fine!