Tony Armstrong, chief executive of the community group membership charity Locality, has criticised Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, for telling public sector commissioners to focus their efforts on "charities that can scale up".
Speaking at an event held by the think tank the Centre for Social Justice last week, Wilson was asked by an audience member what his plan was to help smaller charities that struggle to win service delivery contracts.
Wilson said in response: "It is important that we try to focus on charities that can scale up, because if we are putting these contracts out we need organisations that have this ability."
Armstrong said in a statement made later that he was disappointed by the minister’s comments, especially since the minister had previously suggested that he valued the role community organisations played in service delivery. He said he had written to Wilson requesting a meeting following his comments.
"Only last month Rob Wilson said that people closer to the coalface, who know their communities, were much better at delivering services and that he would support capacity-building to help charities win public sector contracts – even to help them get on the first rung of the ladder," said Armstrong.
"It’s perplexing that he now says public service commissioners should focus on larger charities, seemingly indicating they should ignore small community organisations that hold the local knowledge he previously prized."
Armstrong said that an over-reliance on outsourcing to large organisations had led to failing services and spiralling costs.
Asked about Armstrong’s comments, Wilson said in a statement that he had told the conference that smaller charities should also have the opportunity to bid for public service contracts.
"What is important is that organisations should have the skills and business capability to deliver a contract regardless of their size," he said. "It's ultimately up to an organisation as to whether it wants to upscale to support the needs of the wider community, and I will support those that do.
"However, I want to make sure that smaller charities and social enterprises that do not want to upscale are not excluded from winning contracts, which is why I have said repeatedly that we need to help build skills and modify how government contracts work."