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
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.