Kevin Curley: Charities should shun companies that were involved in recent contracting scandals

We must find better ways of funding our work than taking contracts from companies that either treat people badly or take advantage of the government

Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley
  • This article has been corrected: see final paragraph

Whenever I talk to local voluntary sector audiences about building resilience in the face of austerity, I always urge people to look at ways of engaging with the private sector.

Some companies, such as Zurich, Rolls-Royce, KPMG and other members of the standard-setting London Benchmarking Group, make it easy for us. But small local firms find the local sector difficult to understand - they talk of weariness at being on the receiving end of countless requests for donations.

So we should all learn from the innovative practices in Greater Manchester, where Community and Voluntary Action Tameside has set up Tameside4Good, and in Islington, north London, where charities and businesses have united in the scheme Islington Giving. The first is a web portal that brokers relationships between local charities and businesses; the second is a fundraising initiative that has already raised £2m. These demonstrate mature relationships between people who respect each other.

This is in stark contrast to the subcontracting between large outsourcing companies and local charities that has arisen from the Work Programme and will soon take place under Transforming Rehabilitation. What we now see is charities delivering public services under subcontracts with companies such as G4S, Serco, A4e and Ingeus - and, frankly, we shouldn't go anywhere near them.

Both G4S - responsible for the Olympics security debacle 18 months ago - and Serco have lost their contracts for electronically tagging criminals after a scandal in which some offenders involved were found to be dead, back in prison or overseas: the two firms are now expected to pay back a total of more than £100m. These contracts have been awarded on an interim basis to Capita, whose current chief executive Paul Pindar (he steps down at the end of this month) told the Public Accounts Committee in November that he had failed to meet Army recruitment targets because "we have the disadvantage that we have no wars on - soldiers like to join the Army when they actually have something to do".

In September, nine people who worked for A4e were charged with 60 offences of fraud and forgery arising from fictitious claims made under the Work Programme. The case goes to court as I write.

Meanwhile, Ingeus, which subcontracts to local charities under the Work Programme, was inspected by Ofsted, which identified "inadequate" outcomes in four out of six schemes.

What seems so harmful to me is the taint by association that these business deals bring for reputable local charities. Charities subcontract with these firms because it is the only way they can access public money. We must find better ways of funding our work than taking contracts from companies that either treat people badly or take advantage of the government.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

  •  The nine A4e employees were charged in relation not to the Work Programme but to the Aspire to Inspire Lone Parent Mentoring Programme, also run by the Department of Work and Pensions

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