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Minister announces plan to help small charities win contracts

14 Dec 2016 News

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Rob Wilson, minister for civil society


Rob Wilson has announced a range of measures to help more small charities win contracts and has appointed former NCVO chair Sir Martyn Lewis to chair an implementation group. 

Measures announced today include developing a place-based Public Service Incubator to help small charities work with commissioners to identify and overcome barriers to getting commissioned, and developing a commissioning kitemark to highlight best practice. 

The announcement said that Lewis has been asked to chair a "voluntary sector-led implementation group on these proposals, to put them into practice".

A DCMS spokeswoman said that the first meeting of the implementation group is currently scheduled to take place in early 2017. Following the announcment, DCMS are asking for expressions of interest from those in the VCSE sector interested in partipating in the working group. She said the makeup of this group will be determined by the minister, as well as the chair of the working group with support from the Office of Civil Society.

Speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Charities and Volunteering’s Christmas reception last night Wilson said the aim was to “empower the voluntary sector to be the best it possibly can be”. 

He said that he had decided to set up the group to monitor the implementation was to “work jointly with the sector to make sure that we are as effective as possible at delivering it” and for it to work “together with government to refine position”.

Peter Kellner, chair of NCVO was also speaking at the reception, and said that: “In times of austerity we have got to establish that we are value for money”. 

But that once charities can “demonstrate that they are well run” they will be in a better position to push through a move for three-year instead of one-year funding arrangements from commissioners and be in a “position to go to minister and his colleagues and say ‘we are the people that can really help you deliver”. 

New VCSE representative to be appointed

The government will also appoint a new VCSE Crown Representative, after over two years without anyone in the post. The DCMS spokeswoman said that the recruiitment process will start early next year.

Crown representatives were introduced in 2011 to build strategic engagement between various sectors and government. 

Michael O’Toole was the VCSE Crown Representative between June 2012 and September 2014 when he stood down to become the chief executive of a charity. 

Wilson said: “I want to empower the voluntary sector to be the very best it can be, and harness its expertise so we can improve people’s lives in communities across the country.

“That’s why it’s so important that we do all we can to help local charities and social enterprises to make connections and help shape and deliver public services across the country. I want these proposals to not only benefit communities but also help charities become more sustainable in the future.”

Lewis said: “Strengthening collaboration between small charities and commissioners has long been the aim of many in the voluntary sector. I am encouraged that the government is keen to support this and look forward to leading an implementation group with that purpose.”

More details of the initiatives is available here. 

Sector reaction 

Leaders from around the sector said the announcements were a positive step in the sector’s relationship with government and that they looked forward to engaging with the new initiatives. 

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents charities, said: “Opening up public services commissioning to smaller charities will lead to better outcomes for the people who depend on them. The expertise of charities helps create caring, responsive and efficient public services.
‘But for smaller charities in particular, the barriers to involvement in public services have often been insurmountable.
‘These announcements send a very positive signal. For too long we have seen little progress on this issue, so I’m very pleased that the government is now grasping the nettle and beginning to tackle the complex issues involved head-on.
‘This is an encouraging starting point for what I hope will be ongoing efforts to make sure charities can play a full role in public services.’

Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of Navca, the umbrella body for councils for voluntary action, said: “I am delighted that Rob Wilson has made a priority of helping smaller charities get more involved in shaping and delivering public services. This is an exciting initiative and we at Navca look forward to working with him to harness our members’ expertise, as the biggest network of small charities in England, to make this a success.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting with the new Crown Representative as soon as possible to offer our knowledge of local charities and commissioning. We found it really helpful to work with their predecessor Michael O’Toole.”

Paul Streets, chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, which recently published a report highlighting the barriers small charities faced in the commissioning process, said: “We are pleased that the minister has listened to these organisations and recognised the scale of the challenges they face. The solutions he has outlined today, in particular the Public Services Incubator that will tackle issues as they arise and the voluntary, community and social enterprise crown representative who will ensure ongoing dialogue, will go some way to ensuring the long-term survival of these small but vital organisations.”

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said: “We need to see a stronger Social Value Act, a still greater commitment from government to transparency of public sector contracts, and action to foster a diverse range of providers within public sector markets. Whilst we acknowledge that government has paid attention to some of these issues, there is still much to be done.

“There are reasons to be hopeful and optimistic that government is committed to resetting the relationship between itself and the third sector. We would like to see Whitehall take on vested interests and to challenge the barriers which hold back outcomes based commissioning from fulfilling its promise. We recognise that this cannot be achieved overnight, but a refreshed approach on this in 2017 should be high up on ministers’ new year resolutions.”

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