Councils should respond to the government’s emphasis on social value in public service commissioning by supporting small, local charities rather than large national ones, according to Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, he said: "We find increasingly that big national charities are moving into areas where small local charities used to be. We should use the social value argument to say councils should support the small local charities."
Stewart said many criticisms of the government’s big society agenda had been "misguided". In his constituency, he said, the local community had played a significant role in a local pub buyout, in the design of new affordable housing and in campaigning for broadband internet.
"For us in Cumbria, the big society is about communities rather than charities or the third sector," he said.
Also speaking at the fringe meeting, the decentralisation minister Greg Clark said the Localism Bill, currently before parliament, presented important opportunities for local communities and voluntary groups. "Every public service should have the ethos that it is open to working with the voluntary sector," he said.
Asked by Kevin Curley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, whether the bill would be seen as a failure if its ‘right to challenge’ led to competitive tender processes that were won by large, for-profit companies rather than charities and community groups, Clark said: "When local authorities consider a challenge, they can consider social value. This is very much a community right to challenge."