'Bun fight' expected at committee

The Commons Public Administration Select Committee is preparing for a lively debate tomorrow when three major voluntary sector bodies are called to give their views about the role of charities in delivering public services.

Representatives from the NCVO, Acevo and the Directory of Social Change, which have contrasting views on the topic, will be questioned by MPs as part of the committee's inquiry into commissioning public services from the third sector.

Acevo, the chief executives body, has been at the forefront of promoting charities' ability to deliver public services. The Directory of Social Change has remained deeply sceptical about its benefits.

It is the first time the committee will have heard such a diverse range of views in one sitting because previous sessions have drawn together groups with more similar opinions.

"We do not aim to set up bun fights, but they are fun sometimes," said a spokeswoman for the select committee. She added that the debate could be lively.

Peter Kyle, Acevo's director of strategy and enterprise, who will be giving evidence at the hearing, said that the organisation wanted to see a mixed economy, in which charities were able to operate on a par with the private sector.

"We want the sector to be judged on our social outcomes rather than our economic outcomes," he said. "If we can get that recognised, then people will see the real benefits that the voluntary sector can bring."

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, who will also be giving evidence, said achieving parity between the private sector and charities was impossible. "It is not possible to get a level playing field," she said. "I don't think we even want to have one."

She said the issue should be what would be best for the users of the services.

Ann Blackmore, head of policy at umbrella body the NCVO, said it would be keen to stress that the Government should ensure that services were provided by the most appropriate organisation rather than simply moved out of the public sector.

"What you have to do is go back to the beginning and ask how we can meet a certain need and who is best placed to deliver it," she said. "That way, you are putting the users back at the heart of it."

The NCVO also wanted to stress that the voluntary sector should not have to prove that it provided "added value" over the private sector, she added.

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