A group of voluntary sector workers has announced plans to launch two ventures: a social enterprise to provide advice and reduced-cost services to charities, and a consortium to win large public sector contracts.
The Big Society Co-operative, developed by staff from a small group of charities and consultancies based in Kent, has recruited suppliers, including lawyers, web designers and advertising agencies, to provide discounted services to its members.
It will be a charity-owned industrial and provident society. It is hoping to win government funding to set up a website that will advertise these services and to act as a forum where voluntary sector organisations can access information and advice.
The group is bidding for £600,000 of funding from the government’s Transforming Local Infrastructure budget. It will find out if it is successful at the end of the month.
"This is a forum for talking to your peers," said Amanda Carpenter, a third sector consultant who is one of those developing the cooperative. "We’re hoping to attract enough charities so that suppliers who become involved will get significant economies of scale.
"It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. The more charities that sign up, the cheaper it will be – and the more suppliers we can attract, the more attractive it will be to charities."
Carpenter said the same group also planned to launch a bidding consortium called the Big Society Partnership, which would help the sector win major government contracts.
"At the moment, we’re seeking significant inward investment," she said. "We need that before we can get up and running. We feel there’s a need for a large consortium that can compete, eventually, on the same sort of scale as big private sector organisations. The consortium will start in Kent, but we hope to work nationwide eventually."
The consortium will have full-time employees who are experts in bidding, contract management and supply chain management, and it will outsource the work to voluntary sector organisations.
It will bid for contracts in any area where charities have expertise, including working with addicts, ex-offenders and the homeless, and in children’s services and family services.