Service delivery could depend on 'star rating'

Acevo's vision of a radical expansion of voluntary sector public service delivery took a new twist last week after it was revealed that the Government is considering a star-rating system to differentiate between providers.

Work minister Margaret Hodge said she was keen to see charities play a greater role in getting unemployed people off long-term sickness benefit, and was looking at a classification to help local managers choose between services.

In the same week, communities minister David Miliband and Home Office minister of state Hazel Blears both gave their blessing to Acevo's report, Communities in Control, which argues for a wholesale transfer of employment, children's and prison services to charities.

Blears praised the report's "new thinking" and added: "I believe it is possible to transfer more service-delivery budgets and assets from the public sector to the third sector in order to speed up public service reform."

Miliband said the voluntary sector had a notable role to play in helping "those who the statutory and private sectors find hardest to help".

Nick Aldridge, the author of Communities in Control, said voluntary sector public service delivery could be the third-term "big idea" that Labour had been searching for. He said star ratings could be "quite positive".

"The star-rating system operates in Australia for charities carrying out employment training on behalf of the federal government. Their contracts are automatically renewed if they reach a certain score," he said.

"The downside is that it could make it harder for new entrants to break into the market."

In a further sign that Labour wants to enlist the sector in its social policy agenda, the Department of Health has set up a taskforce under former NCVO trustee Melinda Letts to examine the barriers to voluntary sector delivery of health services.

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