Keep it legal: Government contracts

With an estimated value to the voluntary sector of £2.5bn, government contracts can be lucrative for third sector organisations.

Bureaucracy and other barriers to market entry have in the past led to the third sector failing to capitalise on genuine partnerships with the public sector. 

While the Government introduces measures, such as the Compact and the Public Services Action Plan, to help open up its procurement processes to not-for-profit organisations, what can the voluntary sector itself do to maximise its opportunities?

One key motivator for government to award contracts to the third sector is that it can add value. Charities should demonstrate in their applications what value they can add and how it benefits end users. With the Government committed to opening up the market through initiatives such as Think Smart - Think Voluntary Sector!, charities should show a willingness to join partnerships across traditional boundaries.

The level of bureaucracy now involved in public procurement, much of it originating from the EU, has become notorious, with many applications little more than 'tick-box' exercises. The full weight of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 only hits contracts above a certain financial threshold, but the government must apply core EU values, such as transparency and non-discrimination, to all procurement, regardless of value, which may lead to disproportionate amounts of paperwork. Applicants should be aware of the procedures required and try to use them to their advantage.

If you make an application for a public contract, asking for feedback on your submission could help to improve your next application, whether or not you are successful. Where possible, consider widening your application to include other services that you might be able to supply, maximising the chances of success against the time spent completing the required forms.

With a commitment to innovation within the Government, the voluntary sector should aim to keep up with advances in e-procurement. Government departments have targets for levels of business carried out electronically, so applicants that are e-enabled may find more opportunities open to them.

It is essential that the voluntary sector keeps up with new developments if it is to remain a competitor.

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