Debra Allcock Tyler: Charities should be running services because they care for people, not profit

Unlike businesses, the sector isn't helping people mainly for the money, says our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

I've been following the media stories about A4e, the company that generates pretty much all of its income from delivering government contracts. And I've been particularly amused by the moral outrage expressed by some of our politicians about the size of the salaries and bonuses paid to its directors.

I sense a gobsmacking level of naivety about the private sector within government. A company does business for profit. That's its main motive. They're not providing the service because they care but because they can make money out of it. And let's be honest, as a society we need business to make money - to provide jobs, pay taxes and support the economy.

A company may well care about quality; it might endeavour to do things in a socially and environmentally conscious way - and it may even be quite fond of its consumers or generous in giving to charity. But in the end, the bottom line is the bottom line.

So I have very little sympathy for the government or local authorities that find themselves on the wrong side of the media scandal about private sector companies paying big bonuses or making large profits from taxpayers' money.

Not in it for the money

Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer that our business leaders need to show far more moral leadership in our society than they do now. But the fact that they don't is not the fault of the private sector. It's the fault of those in government who believe that the charitable sector and the private sector are inter-changeable in terms of delivering its contracts and that the motive for the work doesn't matter.

It's about time we put an end to some of these absurd assumptions in our public policy. For example, that working with vulnerable people and causes is a transactional activity that is about cost, not value; that the cheaper a thing is, the more effective it is; and that it's OK to use taxpayers' money on contracts that ultimately finance the high-end sports cars or luxury villas of the business owners.

In my opinion (and it wouldn't surprise me to find that Jo TaxPayer shares my view), it's one thing to accept a company making a profit out of repairing a road or removing waste. It is entirely another matter to think it's all right to allow them to profit from the taxpayer for serving the vulnerable.

And it's even more daft to take grants away from charities, turn them into contracts and then give them to private sector companies that will walk away from the business as soon as the profits go down. We in the voluntary sector don't do that.

Why? Our sector isn't in it for the money. We will do whatever it takes to continue to serve our beneficiaries, none of the money given to us will be distributed in profits and we do not walk away when the money dries up. So for me it's a no-brainer. Use charities to deliver services to vulnerable people.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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