The commissioning reform green paper contains something that could alarm the sector

While flicking through the Office for Civil
Society’s green paper
on commissioning reform,
I came across something that might alarm the sector.

The document is looks at ways to make it easier for
civil society organisations to bid for public service delivery contracts.
Sounds uncontroversial enough.

It even provides an innocuous-sounding
definition of civil society: “Mutuals, cooperatives, charities and social

But the next paragraph says this: “The
government recognises that that many mutuals and co-operatives are
profit-making businesses, which operate for primarily commercial objectives.
However, they are included in this definition owing to their role in public
service provision.”

It sounds, then, as if all of the special
consideration being given to the role of the voluntary sector in delivering
public services – including the ‘right to challenge’ due to be in the Localism
Bill – will be given to profit-making businesses too, as long as they can show
that their staff have some say in their governance.

Is it alarmist to suggest that this might
cause not-for-profit service delivery groups, who are more likely to struggle
anyway under the payment-by-results model that the government is keen on, to be
squeezed out of the market?

Or that it might encourage new, large-scale
businesses to set up on a ‘mutual’ basis, with the aim of winning as many
service delivery contracts as possible?

Perhaps it is alarmist, but it’s possible.

11 Responses to “The commissioning reform green paper contains something that could alarm the sector”

  1. Ray Blakebrough

    Has the Govt changed positions on this topic or are profit making organisations still likely to be awarded service provision contracts? Are charities generally going down the road of strategic development managers ie seeking our SPC or appointing Business Development Managers in the hope of engaging business and sponsorship? Any help would be appreciated

  2. Ivor Sutton

    Ok Leon, I know you’re a Young Trustee. However, let’s broaden this to its rightful dimension – stating that evidence exists that third sector organisations are expressing a desperate intention to captivate the talent from people of all ages; and for free.

    Yes, volunteering grew vastly under the previous Labour administration. Now, given the focus of austerity by the Coalition government, volunteering has almost become an abuse of FREE Labour. This feeling of discontent seems to parallel with a Work Programme that has failed even the ambitious and proactive job-seeker among us.

    This failure by government policy to ‘bridge the gap’ between job-seekers and employers is a failure of many kinds. However, it should also be understood that between 60 and 70% of jobs go unadvertised – usually given to those who have already managed to promote their asset-worthy skills before an employer.

    Thus, with a Work Programme not working… doesn’t volunteering at least ‘get ones eager and determined foot through the door and into a ‘business’ environment, and give opportunity for one to show an employer what they’ve got?’

    • Leon Ward

      Thanks for your comments Ivor.

      I didn’t have enough words to outline the benefits of volunteering and assumed your final point was an obvious one.

      However, volunteering opportunities (NOT internships) are often mediocre roles. Administration, mail sorting, inbox managing etc so they don’t offer the quality of development you need. Internships, which often DO offer that quality are very often exclusive for the reasons listed above, but I did acknowledge the positive impact they can have (though briefly) as long as they are well managed.

      Of course, the government has a role to play too and there are hundreds of potential ways of doing that (possibly another blog!)

      If you’d like to discuss this in a different forum where we can explore this properly do email me or we could meet up and discuss this and I’ll turn that into a blog!


  3. Catherine Murray

    Few would disagree with you: unpaid internships are terrible on a number of levels, and although there is bound to be a number of reasons why they’re unpaid, they do little to encourage young people onto the third-sector job market.

    I’m lucky to have a job as a press office at Girlguiding after a 6-month paid internship. It was done well, it was done right. I had some great experiences which set me up for a career in the charity sector where I’m immensely proud to be.

    I think it can be difficult to start a career in the third sector. It can be a great place to move to after establishing a career (which is a shame because it begins to look like second best), but, like you, I think charities could do more to attract young people to their ranks by showing the all-round benefits of working with a not-for-profit organisation.

    I’ll be honest: salaries are often not comparable to private companies but I could talk all day about the other benefits of being employed by a charity: working with some amazing people, the constant change and innovation, pension and benefits, work hours, holiday, and the most important bit which is knowing that every day you help someone (that last bit goes without saying but I feel like stating the obvious today!)

    I think it’s time for charities to get together to tell young people about the amazing things they do. I was 23 before I even realised charities operated like businesses with dynamic paid staff and exciting, ever-changing strategies. I started applying for jobs and internships and never looked back.

    • Leon Ward

      This is a fantastic reply. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

      • Liz Dyer

        Really enjoyed this blog Leon, and have heard great reviews of your contribution to the parliamentary inquiry this week.

        I was mulling over some of the above issues yesterday whilst reading Debra Allcock Tyler’s latest piece on charity Chief Executive pay:—not-attracted-large-salary/. Whilst I agree that the charity sector needs passionate people inspired by the cause not just the salary, but it would be a shame if this served to exclude young people from the charity sector.

        As you’ve rightly pointed out, volunteering brings great value to the volunteer and charity and I would urge any students to gain office-based volunteering experience or a more formal internship whilst studying, if they can. But if unpaid positions become the only entry point to the sector it will be deprived of a vast range of young talent.

        • Leon Ward

          Thanks Liz and great comment. I agree, which is why I called for entry/trainee schemes so we can allow people (not just graduates) to enter the Sector with some salary support; it’s tough at there as it is, expecting to people to gain several years of experience without any funds make it near impossible for many people.

  4. Ivor Sutton

    Thanks Leon.

    Amid the CEO’s and directors who have posts of this forum, you are the ONLY person who has had the enthusiasm and will to ‘reach back’ – which is a ‘breath of fresh air’ for one who is constantly ‘reaching out’ with the aim of achieving goals.

    As someone who stems from private sector management, and who ambitiously and successfully crossed-over into the public and third sectors, one can imagine how frustrating it can be to still be seeking employment goals amid the proactive job-seeking on a daily basis.

    Though, amid a failed Work Programme, constantly ‘reaching out’ for opportunities is a fundamental skill to maintain as there remains a failure of these Work Programme contractors to engage their clients with other job-seekers and to encourage team working, and the possibility of developing new and refreshing opportunities as a team. Sadly, such policy ideas are not being developed by the mind of those already in the influential positions they hold.

    I will email you soon.

    All the best!

    • Olly

      The problem at the moment is the over supply of labour, caused in part by a lack of demand across all sectors. As there are fewer jobs and young people are encouraged to become more employment-ready through volunteering and internships, the number of young people looking for such opportunities increases.

      Organisations then have to introduce barriers to entry to reduce the number of people applying for these opportunities. If the barriers to entry were lowered there is no more likelihood you’d get an internship, simply the organisation would need to select out of 400 applications, rather than 40. That is inefficient for the organisation, with not much benefit for the individual.

      So whilst I totally agree that charities have a moral obligation to pay interns to ensure equality of access, I’m not sure that solves the problem you have highlighted.

      • Leon Ward

        Good point Olly.

        It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. But, as the sector continues to grow I think organisations who cannot afford to pay can instead, offer better, more valuable and properly structured/managed volunteering opportunities. If this happens, then lots of people can gain significant skill sets from shorter-term placements. Also, I think I balanced a bit too heavily on national organisations but my above points do actually apply to local organisations too. I do think Government has a role to play too. Parliament/Whitehall is an extremely exclusive club for internships; so the problem is widespread. Lastly, I think organisations could arrange for external awards for volunteers/interns like the V awards so people gain *actual* recognition for the work that they do.

        Thanks for commenting and sharing!

        Ivor, I look forward to your email and hope we can thrash this out some more!


  5. catherine stephens-ward


    You raise some very interesting points. I manage an Internship Programme for the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA). Although the majority of our internships are unpaid, some are paid and travel expenses are reimbursed in all cases. The internships are flexibly part-time, and typically the commitment is 1-2 days per week for 2-3 months, designed to fit around the intern’s other commitments whether this is study or job seeking.

    Our internships differ from other programmes as the intern gets to take ownership of a project, whether this being creating a promotional film, writing a business plan or conducting research to name a few. Feedback from interns has highlighted the benefits of having the opportunity to deliver a professional project to a customer’s requirements which helps to build CV’s and portfolios, the later being crucial for budding freelancers.

    Although the opportunities are aimed at graduate level, as they require specialist skills, applicants do not need to have a degree. Interns can be of any age, and at any stage of their career, providing they have the skills and knowledge required by the hosting charity.

    While we are mindful of raising expectations, some of our interns do go onto secure paid employment or paid freelance work. If we are to believe that up to 70% of jobs are unadvertised, in this competitive job market our internships at least help people to showacse their skills and get a ‘foot in the door’.


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