Staff could pay the price of increased public service delivery

The Government's push to increase public service delivery through third sector organisations will drive down staff conditions, reduce collaborative working between charities and threaten smaller groups, unions have warned MPs.

At a hearing of the public administration select committee this week, union representatives told MPs that increased competition among charities for contracts would result in poorer working conditions and training opportunities for staff as organisations try to slash costs.

Rachael Maskell, national officer for the third sector at Amicus, part of newly-formed union Unite, warned of a “race to the bottom” in terms and conditions for third sector staff. She told MPs that fear of losing crucial contracts also prevented charities from speaking out against the regime.

The union has written to third sector minister Ed Miliband asking for a meeting to discuss its concerns around the impact of increased competition on staff development. “Skills, development and training are an early sacrifice in this context,” said the letter, seen by Third Sector.

Maskell told the hearing that collaborative working would also suffer and that some charities were already cutting off dialogue with each other in case they revealed information that could help rival bidders. “Charities that used to work very collaboratively are now not speaking to each other in case they lose something they could use as an advantage in a bid,” she said.

Unison general secretary David Prentis added that the push to increase sector service delivery would result in the death of some smaller charities. “The smaller voluntary sector organisations will go under because they will not be able to provide the resources to bid,” he said.

“Our experience of commissioning and competition is that it goes to the big players and is that what we want the voluntary sector to become? If the community and voluntary sector involvement is based on markets and competition you are going to lose the distinct value of that sector.”

Committee chair Tony Wright said previous witnesses before the committee had expressed “undiluted enthusiasm” for increasing public service delivery through charities.

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