Public sector commissioners believe conflict between voluntary organisations presents a "significant barrier" to working with them, a report from the health think tank the King’s Fund says.
The report, Commissioner Perspectives on Working with the VCSE Sector, says that all of the 16 NHS and local government commissioners interviewed said they had experienced infighting and conflict between charities when working with the voluntary sector.
Some commissioners reported having to tread a careful path to avoid accusations of favouritism. Others said voluntary organisations needed to think more about how they could work in partnership with other voluntary providers, the report says.
"Commissioners were clear that conflict within the sector presented a significant barrier to commissioning," the report says.
"There was a definite sense of frustration that organisations were not able to ‘get out of their own box’ and think who they could partner with to take advantage of new funding opportunities."
The report calls on charities to communicate with commissioners with a strong and unified voice.
"This requires leadership from within the sector to manage competition between different organisations," it says.
"Strong leadership is essential to build collaboration and partnerships within the sector and with commissioners."
But the report adds that several respondents said they believed the voluntary sector could deliver value for money, and all spoke at length about the value the voluntary sector could bring to communities. What differed, it says, was their approach to managing, stimulating and supporting that value.
Commissioners were not convinced grants were inherently better than contracts, the report says, but instead said any funding mechanism should be used appropriately and proportionately.
Most had heard of the social value act, but their knowledge and use of the legislation in commissioning varied widely, the report says.
Lisa Weaks, head of third sector for the King’s Fund and one of the report authors, said that in the wake of a number of reports highlighting commissioning practices that presented real challenges for the voluntary sector, this report aimed to examine the issues and pressures faced by commissioners and what influenced their decisions.
"Some commissioners viewed the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector as a key and equal partner, but others were put off by the perceived conflict and competition in the sector," she said.
"We might not agree with the commissioners’ perceptions of infighting, particularly because many organisations are being forced to compete for ever-diminishing budgets. But the sector should be aware of how it is sometimes perceived, and should ask whether there is more that could be done to improve the way it works with commissioners to benefit the communities that both commissioners and VCSE organisations exist to serve."
Weaks said recent changes to commissioning might provide more challenges, but they could also create opportunities to change things for the better, and voluntary organisations needed to be in a position to grasp them.