Focus: Policy and Politics - Question Time - Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk

As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, what's your view on longer-term voluntary sector contracts?

If they are contracts and not grants - there's an important distinction between the two - and if the Government is in the business of issuing contracts to people and asking organisations to bid for providing those contracts, then presumably the main thing the Government ought to be concerned about is whether it has confidence in the person or the organisation that's bidding.

What other questions arise?

Does the Government have confidence that the organisation will be able to perform the service? If it does, it should feel confident in letting it have a contract. You could say there shouldn't be a lot of difference between a commercial organisation trying to do it at a profit and a voluntary organisation that's trying to do it for a range of other reasons.

So should the voluntary and private sectors be on an equal footing?

If the organisation is capable of providing the service, you can make as strong an argument for it to be a longer-term contract with a voluntary organisation as you could with a private sector organisation, if the point of the exercise is to buy certain services from it.

What about grants?

If it's a grant then it's somewhat different. Where you have small, local and well-trusted organisations that have been doing a great job, you can see why the Government would want to buy more of their services.

Should grants also be longer?

However, depending on the size of the organisation, it might not be the sort that's going to raise huge amounts of money. It might be more appropriate in certain circumstances to issue a grant to it to deliver certain services for a certain time. Where that's the case, I would favour that it's contracted out on a shorter-term basis.

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