Charities must be at the centre of public sector procurement, lords tell the government

Charities must be at the centre of public sector procurement, according to the chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee.

Baroness Armstrong has written to the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, who is responsible for the government’s green paper on procurement, which was published for consultation in December.

Armstrong’s letter acknowledges how the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged important innovations in the way that public services have been procured and commissioned in the UK. 

But following a report published by the committee in November and an evidence session in January that included input from the Lloyds Bank Foundation and Children England, Armstrong has highlighted several concerns.

She said: “We are concerned that the green paper fails to embed the greater emphasis on social value permitted by the commissioning guidance that was introduced last year. 

“The proposals contained in the green paper do not recognise that high-quality public services require a commissioning approach that gives a central role to charities, local authorities and service users, and which provides small organisations with the funding that they need to carry out their important work.”

Charity membership bodies originally welcomed the plans in December that promised to cut red tape, reduce bureaucracy and help unleash wider social benefits from public money.

But Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, told the committee during an evidence session last month that the rules regulating a company “supplying crockery to Parliament” should not be equivalent to the “issues and procedures for procuring public services to people in Stoke”.

Paul Streets, chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, also told the committee that the outcomes of public services provision should be determined by individuals who relied on those services, because they knew best what support they needed and how it should be delivered.

In general, Armstrong said witnesses to the committee felt the green paper erased the distinction between services delivered by charities or social enterprises and the procurement of goods from the private sector. 

Therefore the proposed changes risked neglecting the needs of charities and social enterprises that provided services and focused largely on reforming private sector procurement, she said. 

Streets said today that although the intention was welcome, the green paper was fundamentally flawed.

“The paper should be an opportunity to overcome many of the problems we’ve seen for years, but the approach set out could make things worse for people accessing services, charities delivering them and contracting authorities,” he said.

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