Smaller charities are being forced out of government contract bids, CIC head says

Heather Wilkinson, chief executive of Striding Out, blames departments that favour larger, payment-by-results contracts

Heather Wilkinson
Heather Wilkinson

The way government contracts are awarded is forcing smaller charities and not-for-profit organisations out of the bidding process, the head of a community interest company has warned.

Heather Wilkinson, chief executive of Striding Out, which provides career support and training, told Third Sector her organisation had been affected by changes to the way government departments commissioned contracts for the Work Programme, the Skills Funding Agency and the National Citizen Service.  

"The challenge is that these departments are now only looking to work with large corporate prime contractors with a view to only issuing bigger contract values, and they are paid-by-results models."

Striding Out had been in talks with a prime contractor about NCS services, she said, but "due to its profit margins, the money it offered us for delivering our element of work was unviable".

"The money is there and the contract opportunities are there, but the problem is that we cannot get to them," she said.

"I don’t feel there have been fewer opportunities, but our ability to bid competitively and fairly has been reduced."

James Allen, head of public services and partnerships at the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, said the introduction of payment-by-results contracts, such as those offered to charities under the Work Programme, had proved particularly problematic.

"Payment-by-results is a significant barrier to organisations bidding for contracts in the first place," he said.

"The problem is moving from a model of upfront payments and grants straight to payment-by-results without the transition being skilfully managed. Organisations are already under pressure and margins are tight. They won’t bid because they cannot take the risk."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the structure of Work Programme contracts was appropriate. "The Work Programme exists to help those most at need get back into work and it is only fair and right to the taxpayer that we do not waste money on upfront payments with no guarantee of success," she said.

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