Larger organisations would benefit most under 'right to challenge', Navca warns

Umbrella body says a successful local bid to deliver a service would 'trigger a commissioning and procurement process' that might favour larger groups and private sector bodies


The 'right to challenge' included in the Localism Bill could cause more services to be delivered by large national or international firms rather than small, local voluntary and community groups, the umbrella body Navca has warned.

In its response to the government's consultation on the right to challenge proposal, under which local voluntary groups would be able to challenge councils for the right to deliver a particular public service, Navca says it supports the principle of community involvement in local services. But it also says it has "some concerns about the practical implications of the right to challenge".

Its response says: "It must be noted that a successful local challenge would not give the organisation or group that submitted the expression of interest the right to deliver the service, but would trigger a commissioning and procurement process, open also to 'other relevant bodies or private sector organisations', including big national and international service providers.

"It is widely perceived that current procurement rules favour larger organisations, particularly from the private sector, to the detriment of local accountability."

Navca's response also cites comments by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, that outsourcing services risks eroding accountability because more services would be delivered by organisations that were outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has also responded to the government's consultation on the proposal, saying the right to challenge should be extended beyond councils to involve other public bodies that provide public services. The response says emphasis should be placed on councils and voluntary groups working in partnership to commission and provide services. "While the language of right to challenge may seem to be empowering for communities, often the best services and commissioning processes are those that are worked on collaboratively," it says.

The NCVO has also responded to the government's consultation on the 'right to buy' proposals set out in the Localism Bill. Under the proposals, voluntary and community groups would have the right to nominate local amenities and buildings to be listed as 'assets of community value' and would have extra time to prepare a bid to take them over if those assets came up for sale.

The NCVO's response says local voluntary and community groups should be given a right of first refusal when local authorities announce plans to sell buildings of community value.

The response also says the term 'right to buy' is misleading and has caused confusion in the sector, because the government's proposals do not oblige councils to accept a bid from local voluntary or community groups.

Both Navca and the NCVO have asked the government to extend the time period in which community groups can bid to take over the buildings.

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