Ten-year public service contracts 'unrealistic'

Nathalie Thomas

Ten or 15-year contracts for voluntary and community sector organisations engaged in delivering public services are an "unrealistic" expectation, according to Sir John Gieve, permanent secretary at the Home Office.

"I think the idea that the voluntary and community sector or the private sector could generally look for 10- or 15-year contracts for all services is a bit unrealistic," Sir John told a public accounts committee meeting on voluntary sector funding last month.

The comments were delivered in response to comparisons drawn by Richard Bacon MP between third-sector funding and longer-term contracts for companies involved in Private Finance Initiatives. Bacon highlighted that 10- or 20-year PFI contracts were considered the norm.

"PFI is fundamentally about buying services; so is this," Bacon said.

"What is the difficulty in issuing long-term contracts?"

Helen Edwards, director general of the Home Office communities group, who was also at the hearing, agreed that three-year contracts for the third sector should "probably be the minimum". But she added that 15-year agreements would "tie down departments over a long period".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Confederation of British Industry conference last week that "breaking down the barriers between public, private and voluntary sectors must continue".

However, according to Sir John, a skills gap in both the third sector and civil service is preventing effective partnership working. "Many of the people (in government) do not know how to engage and that is a problem also on the voluntary sector side," he told the committee.

- See Question Time, page 16.

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