The Office for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd MP, has this week published an update on its progress to encourage civil society groups to work with the state. The report states a number of successes which have been achieved by the Cabinet Office since 2010, including:
- Contributing to a more competitive voluntary sector by building consortia support and supply chains collaboration through “More Than the Sum” and “Transforming Local Infrastructure” initiatives to help VCSEs pool their strengths and deliver larger contracts, developed in conjunction with ACEVO and NAVCA;
- Making contracting more transparent by publishing the majority of opportunities on the Contracts Finder website, and mandating authorities across the public sector to report how much they spend with the voluntary and community sector;
- Supporting more ‘intelligent commissioning’ by the creation of the Commissioning Academy for public sector officials, streamlining procurement processes and the ‘Mystery Shopper’ Service which allows any organisation looking to bid for public sector work to register difficulties encountered with public body or prime contractor procurements.
- Setting up Big Society Capital to support social ventures and through a number of measures to help develop skills needed in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector;
- Finally, the report notes that, through the Centre for Social Action the Office for Civil Society is supporting providers to use volunteering to improve public service outcomes.
The paper also mentions that Changes to EU Procurement Directives will soon benefit the sector when tendering for contracts. The new legislation overhauls the current EU public procurement rules and for the first time sets common EU standards on concession contracts to boost fair competition and ensure best value for money. The standards will introduce new award criteria that place more emphasis on environmental considerations, social aspects and innovation.
The paper concludes by stating that its commitment to opening up public services to civil society is ‘on track’ in health, criminal justice and policing, and also notes that two of the largest contracts to be provided by independent contractors, the Work Programme and the future Transforming Rehabilitation programme offer a significant role for the sector in partnership with larger commercial entities. The Cabinet Office’s support of mutuals is also highlighted in the progress report, and the way in which the Mutuals Support programme is available to provide guidance and support to organisations considering spinning out into a mutual, which includes a resource-based website, telephone hotline and classroom-based training programmes.