From the TUC

The Big Society market – who are the winners?

18 Apr 2011, by in Public services

“Charities and social enterprises play a hugely important role in delivering high-quality, efficient NHS services, and a policy of enabling whoever is best-placed to deliver could see them do more, to the immense benefit of NHS patients and taxpayers. We need to seize that opportunity, and leave debates about privatisation where they belong – in the last century.”

These are the words of Sir Stephen Bubb, the Chief Executive of ACEVO, one of the Government’s preferred voices from the community and voluntary sector.

At a time when the vast majority of ACEVO members are faced with spending cuts, job losses and service reductions, Sir Stephen sees a wealth of opportunity in the Government’s push to create a market for public services. Without wishing to sound too “last century”, I’d like to suggest to Sir Stephen that debates about privatisation seem increasingly apt.

Unlike colleagues at the Institute of Fundraising who unequivocally told the Public Administration Select Committee that “the voluntary sector cannot be – and should not be – called upon to do the job of the state”, Sir Stephen thinks that his members can only benefit from the market.

So it was interesting to see how the voluntary sector fared in the recent round of contracts awarded for delivery of the DWP’s Work Programme , a government initiative that represented “a massive boost for the big society” according to employment minister Chris Grayling .

Of the 18 preferred bidders for 40 prime contracts, the voluntary sector was awarded two.  The public sector got one.  Fifteen went to the private sector, including SERCO, A4E and G4S.

Worth also noting that the two voluntary sector consortia that won bids were effectively voluntary/private partnerships, with Careers Development Group bidding with multi-national employment and training provider MAXIMUS and Rehab partnering up with Interserve, described as “one of the world’s foremost support services and construction companies”.

The DWP have been quick to stress the point that 289 voluntary groups are likely to conduct around half of the work under payment by results sub-contracts.  It will be interesting to see just how much work goes to the voluntary sector subbies and what those contractual relationships with the private sector will entail for the voluntary organisations delivering them.

As Rachael Maskell national officer for health and the not for profit sector at Unite puts it “the agenda is being controlled by the private sector”