The architect of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, Chris White MP, yesterday called on the government to do more to open up public services to civil society organisations and create a “level playing field”.
White (pictured), who is the Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on social enterprise, held a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the issue following publication of a report by Social Enterprise UK, The Shadow State, earlier this month which warned that social enterprises were turning away from public services.
During the debate White said: “We need to be clear that when we are opening our public services that we are doing this in the best way possible for communities, in a way that really gives choice for commissioners and service-users, and ensuring that there are appropriate levels of accountability.”
He called for the government to:
- Create a central register of all public services contracts available online
- Reduce the size of public service contracts to make them more accessible to smaller organisations
- Increase transparency by making all public service providers detail spending over £100,000
- Encourage commissioners to take account of governance structures and give more weight to organisations that are more accountable locally
After the debate White explained: “I want to see services delivered in a way which maximises benefit for communities and I believe that social enterprises, charities and small businesses are often best placed to do this.”
Also speaking during the debate, Sajid Javid, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The government is committed to improving the quality of public services and delivering them more efficiently.”
He added that: “Key elements of our approach include increasing the amount of services that we commission out; taking advantage of efficiencies and real-world benefits that the voluntary and private sectors can deliver, and ensuring a diverse provision of services to drive quality through competition.
“We are also making greater use of payment by results, which is good for government, because the financial risk is taken by the investor, not the taxpayer. It is also good for the voluntary sector, as it opens up many more opportunities for social enterprises and charities to deliver public services.”
Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK welcomed the debate and called on the commissioners to embrace the Public Services (Social Value) Act when it comes into force in January 2013. He said: “It gives them the green light to commission services that have the greatest value to society, rather than to go for the lowest immediate cost, creating a race to the bottom in our public service markets.”
The Act requires all public bodies contracting services to consider how they can improve the environment, social and economic wellbeing for the local area.
Cabinet Office announcements this week
Earlier this week the Cabinet Office held a roundtable with civil society umbrella bodies to discus service delivery.
The Cabinet Office is also developing a masterclass programme to support charities and voluntary sector groups seeking to bid for public sector contract. Last week it published a progress update on making it easier for the sector to work with the state.