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Charities urge flexible approach to open public services

By Vivienne Russell | 16 October 2012

Voluntary organisations bidding to provide public services are still faced with ‘significant barriers’, according to their umbrella body.

A report, published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and 14 partner organisations today, highlights the real experiences voluntary groups have faced as part of the Open Public Services programme. It urges a more flexible and open approach from statutory agencies such as councils.

Among the concerns and problems facing voluntary organisations ahead of a tendering process is whether they will achieve full cost recovery.

Concerns also relate to the liabilities associated with taking on public sector staff under the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations.

The government’s flagship Work Programme is criticised as a poor way of encouraging greater voluntary sector involvement as its payment-by-results model transfers the bulk of the financial risk onto providers. This means only private contractors or the largest third sector suppliers can take the contracts on.

But the report also highlights several examples of innovative practice, where the voluntary sector has worked in new ways with statutory authorities to develop specialist services.

One such is the Baca Project in Leicestershire, which provides services specifically for youngsters who have been trafficked into the UK or are seeking asylum. Baca commented that it had seen success where the local authority had demonstrated a flexible approach throughout the commissioning process. This had encouraged grassroots organisations and service users to participate in developing the programme design.

Sir Stuart Hetherington, chief executive of NCVO, said: ‘It’s crucial that bureaucracy does not hinder creativity and innovation in developing services for the people who need them. We need the government and local authorities to recognise the current barriers and restrictions to innovation from the voluntary sector and take practical steps to encourage greater engagement.’

James Allen, head of partnerships and public services at NCVO, added: ‘This report should be read by everyone involved in improving services, from government, local authorities, voluntary organisations to social investors.

‘We must encourage greater integration of approaches from the voluntary sector and all sectors need to work together, opening up dialogue and commissioning to ensure the most appropriate support is delivering to make a difference to the lives of the people and communities in this country.’



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