The government’s localism legislation could lead to voluntary groups being used as "bid candy" by national organisations, according to a report out today.
In the report Localism: Threat or Opportunity?, which has been produced by the Trades Union Congress and includes essays from a range of voluntary sector organisations, the umbrella body Navca warns that national organisations might encourage local groups to use the Community Right to Challenge to force a council to put a service out to tender.
In the report, Neil Cleeveley, director of policy and communications at Navca, writes: "There are real fears that, just as many private contractors bidding for Work Programme contracts appeared to use local voluntary organisations as ‘bid candy’, so we will see ‘Trojan horse’ challenges fronted by ‘local groups’ set up specifically for the purpose by national players, or genuine local groups facing financial pressures lured into mounting a challenge with promises of easy money."
However, he adds that "intelligent commissioning" by councils, which would involve an understanding the needs of service users, investment in local providers and "fair and transparent contracting processes", could help avert such problems.
Cleeveley says that under European Union procurement rules councils are not obliged to hold a competitive tender for "part B" services, which include health, education and cultural schemes. But he adds that there is "plenty of scope" under the Public Services (Social Value) Act for commissioners to make sure that local public services deliver value for money and make a difference to communities.
He says he believed the Right to Challenge would not be used often if councils involved local people in the development of their services.
Elsewhere in the paper, Adrian Barritt, chief officer of Adur Voluntary Action, argues that localism is likely to "connive in the destruction of local public sector jobs by helping to engage volunteers in provision of erstwhile public services, or to stand by and see services vanish whilst needs remain".