Charities face hurdles in delivering public services, says NCVO report

Chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington says it's crucial that bureaucracy does not hinder creativity and innovation

Sir Stuart Etherington

Charities face significant barriers to getting involved in the delivery of public services, according to a report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The government’s Open Public Services White Paper, published last year, encouraged the voluntary sector to play a greater role in local services. But the report Open Public Services: Experiences from the Voluntary Sector, published by the NCVO and 14 partner organisations, found that charities had brought improvements and new ideas to public services, although they had been hindered by bureaucracy. 

The report highlights examples where the voluntary sector has worked in new ways with statutory authorities to develop specialist services but argues there needs to be greater openness and flexibility when commissioning services to help charities exert more influence in the delivery of public services. 

Recommendations in the report include offering grant funding to help charities compete for public-service contracts, and making contracts a manageable length for charities. Voluntary organisations should also be prepared to invest time and staff resources if they wish to be involved in public-service delivery, it says.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said: "One of the key strengths of the voluntary sector is our diversity and our ability to innovate. We are quick to recognise need and creative in designing effective solutions that overcome the social hurdles many people face.

"But it’s crucial that bureaucracy does not hinder creativity and innovation in developing services for the people who need them. We need the government and local authorities to recognise the current barriers and restrictions to innovation from the voluntary sector and take practical steps to encourage greater engagement."

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said improving public service delivery was a priority for the coalition government.She said it had removed pre-qualification questionnaires for the majority of procurement exercises of less than £100,000, was piloting a Commissioning Academy to help commissioners design and deliver better public services for less money.

It had also recruited a crown representative for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to ensure that it had a voice in government procurement and was seeking to stimulate a social investment market to provide up-front capital to voluntary sector organisations through Big Society Capital and social investment bonds.

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