Push to help social enterprises win public service contracts

Sir Martyn Lewis will take forward government proposals to get more social enterprises and small charities into the public service supply chain.

Lewis, a former BBC journalist and, until recently, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, will chair an implementation group to put into practice a new programme announced by minister for civil society Rob Wilson on 13 December.

The measures include a Public Service Incubator that will help charities and social enterprises collaborate with public service commissioners and develop services.

The recommendations are unlikely to tackle the considerable barriers for social enterprises and charities in winning work from the public sector

A commissioning kitemark will be explored which commissioners can use to show their commitment to small-charity-friendly commissioning.

And a voluntary, community and social enterprise crown representative will be recruited to champion small charities and social enterprises within public services, as well as being an intermediary between the third sector and government.

Announcing the measures, Rob 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.”

Martyn Lewis, who stood down as NCVO chair in November, 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.”

SEUK demands more action

Social Enterprise UK gave the proposals a cool welcome. CEO Peter Holbrook said: “The recommendations are a helpful but incremental step forward, but on the face of it are unlikely to tackle the considerable barriers for social enterprises and charities in winning work from the public sector.”

He added that the Public Services (Social Value) Act, which requires public services commissioners to consider how they can secure social, economic and environmental benefits, needed to be strengthened. He also called for greater transparency of public sector contracts and government action to foster a diverse range of providers within public sector markets.

“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.”

The government announcements come shortly after a report from the Lloyds Bank Foundation, Commissioning in Crisis, argued that “ludicrous” commissioning processes excluded small charities from bidding for contracts, “leaving many deprived of funding and on the brink of shutting up shop”. 

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