Politics: Reform in public services 'will lead to bidding war'

Nathalie Thomas

Voluntary sector leaders are predicting that the sector will be at the centre of a bidding war in the run-up to the next General Election after Tony Blair revealed his intention to make public service reform one of the main staples of Labour's next manifesto.

Blair is setting up four policy groups to look at public services, economic competitiveness, security and migration, and foreign policy. The groups' findings will shape both next year's Comprehensive Spending Review and, if Blair's plans go unchallenged by party members, Labour's manifesto for 2009/10.

"It's a huge opportunity for the sector," said Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo. "There's a strong case for radical changes in the way public services are delivered."

With all three of the major political parties showing an interest in how charities can deliver more user- and community-focused services, Bubb believes the sector could find politicians queueing up to get its attention.

"I suspect we're going to see a bidding war for the ear of the sector, which is a fantastic position to be in," he said. "We'll see which party can offer us the best deal."

But not everybody is so happy - the Directory of Social Change has cautioned charities not to be blinded by the extra attention.

Ben Wittenberg, head of policy and research at the DSC, reminded the sector that government departments are usually driven by financial considerations.

"It's not necessarily going to create more or better opportunities for the sector," he said. He urged charities to think carefully about what delivering public service contracts would mean.

"There needs to be a much better understanding on both sides of the nature of the relationship between the sector and the Government and how that works," he said.

- See Editorial, page 13.

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