Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, has promised to try to "bust through" the barriers to charities winning public service contracts as part of efforts to widen the third sector’s sources of funding.
Speaking before a voluntary sector audience at an event hosted by BT MyDonate to mark Giving Tuesday, Wilson addressed concerns that charities were finding it difficult to compete with other organisations for government contracts, including prisoner rehabilitation and substance abuse programmes.
He said he wanted more charities to have a chance to follow the example of the St Giles Trust, which won a share of work under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme as part of a partnership with the private company Ingeus.
"I make you this promise today," said Wilson. "I will be looking in detail at the barriers to commissioning facing charities and social enterprises.
"My aim is, if it is possible, to bust through those barriers to enable the government to make the most of the many outstanding people and organisations we have up and down the UK."
Wilson said he was hoping to make an "exciting announcement about an entirely new source of finance" in due course.
In the week after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, finance was a key theme of Wilson’s speech, in which he said he wanted government to be "one partner among many" and "a helping hand, rather than a crutch" for individual charities.
"Too many charities are devoting huge resources to chasing the same pot of money," he said. "Too many are dependent on a single source of income, always just one cheque away from insolvency. I want to see a sector that is capable, resilient, self-confident and independent."
Wilson said there would always be a place for grants – "it’s why we protected the Big Lottery Fund in the recent spending review" – but "with money tight we need a new kind of relationship with civil society organisations".
He said he welcomed the Chancellor’s scaling-up of social impact bonds and a new social outcomes fund worth more than £75m, which he said would allow local authorities to create new SIBs.
"Combined with our historic devolution reforms, this is a huge opportunity for civil society organisations," he said.
Wilson also touched on standards in the voluntary sector, expressing sympathy for small charities amid the falling public confidence in fundraising, though he made no new announcements about regulation.
"It’s clear that some big charities lost their way," he said. "That is deeply unfair, especially to the smallest charities with the tightest of margins."
The Office for Civil Society would help to raise standards, he said, by investing £15m in "a new phase in the Centre for Social Action, taking the ideas that can make a difference and enabling them to grow and become rooted in our public services and communities".
The CSA was set up in February 2013, with £14m of funding, to encourage people to create positive change through social action.
Wilson rounded off his 12-minute speech at the BT Tower by pledging that the government would continue to back the Community Organisers Programme, which he said had so far recruited 6,500 community organisers.
"I can announce that we’re committing to expand the number of community organisers recruited to 10,000 by March 2020," he said. "I’m also delighted to announce that the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government have committed more than £0.5m pounds to support 27 community organisers."