Deal to cut down contract strife

Mathew Little

Councils for Voluntary Service and the Scarman Trust have signed a deal to reduce competition for local authority contracts.

The agreement between the trust and umbrella body NACVS follows an acrimonious battle in Manchester earlier this year, when Scarman undercut Voluntary Action Manchester to win a contract to provide infrastructure support to the local voluntary sector.

There have since been fears that national organisations such as Scarman and Groundwork would seek to grab more contracts currently held by local CVSs.

The deal means that when a local authority invites competitive tenders from the voluntary sector, NACVS and the Scarman Trust will seek to persuade them to separate funding for general infrastructure support from work with neighbourhood and community groups. The CVS would then apply for the former and the trust for the latter. Local CVSs and Scarman will also consider joint bids.

Matthew Pike, chief executive of the Scarman Trust, said it would "co-operate where possible, but compete where necessary".

He insisted that there was nothing wrong with competitive bidding for local authority contracts. "We are not involved in a carve-up with NACVS members," he said. "Contestability is upon us. Local authorities are within their rights to insist upon best value and quality of service."

Kevin Curley, chief executive of the NACVS, said: "Our emphasis is to get local CVSs to work in partnership with organisations such as Scarman and to recognise that what matters isn't organisational victory or growth, but delivering the best possible support to local groups."

But not all members of NACVS have backed the agreement. Rob Arnold, director of Voluntary Action Manchester, said: "There might be a piece of paper signed between Curley and the chief executive of the Scarman Trust, but to me NACVS is a member-led organisation, and I know there are a number of members who are unhappy with the agreement.

"The Scarman Trust hasn't even apologised for bidding against us in the first place.

"The CVS movement is horribly vulnerable to national organisations coming in and taking over its ground.

"Because they are national they can, through economies of scale, do things more cheaply than local organisations."

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