A Gloucestershire charity is highlighting an opportunity for local councils to ensure they support smaller county charities by seeing their unique strengths and community knowledge when awarding contracts.
GAVCA, the Gloucestershire Association for Voluntary and Community Action, says that it has received feedback from several local charities which shows a trend towards larger contracts being awarded to national charities, to the detriment of smaller local groups.
GAVCA hopes local commissioners will find it easier to place greater emphasis on social value, rather than merely appointing the supplier that appears to offer best financial value after the new Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 went live yesterday (31 January 2013).
The Act, for the first time, places a duty on public bodies to consider social value ahead of procurement. It applies to the provision of services, or the provision of services together with the purchase or hire of goods or the carrying out of works.
Sally Pickering, Chief Executive of GAVCA, said: "We understand it's very difficult for commissioners at a time when their budgets are stretched. However there is a risk that national service providers may not have the local knowledge and understanding of the local context that smaller, local providers have, which is often based on many years of involvement in local communities."
"As well as this local knowledge, a thriving local voluntary sector helps to build strong local communities and you can't put a price on that," added Mrs Pickering.
Feedback received by GAVCA suggests that some smaller organisations in the county are at risk of going into administration because, despite investing significant time and resources in working collaboratively to put in joint bids, they are still being unsuccessful in winning contracts.
"The new Best Value Guidance requires Local Authorities to consider overall value, including economic, environmental and social value when reviewing service provision and we are encouraging our district and county councils to place greater emphasis on the social value," said Mrs Pickering.
Anecdotal evidence received by GAVCA suggests that:
• Changes in service provider can create difficulties if not managed well. People, especially those that are old and vulnerable, who are used to using an existing service cannot understand why it is now being provided by different people/organisations. They often find the change difficult to accept.
• Other organisations working to support people with particular needs are not receiving details of new arrangements in time to answer questions from the public.
• Some local voluntary and community groups that were previously providing services continue to do so but now are considering charging a commercial rate to cover their costs.
"GAVCA is trying to support voluntary and community organisations in this difficult time of change and continuing our relationship with our public sector partners is a key part of this," said Mrs Pickering.
GAVCA has heard of examples of large contracts in Gloucestershire that have been rolled together from many smaller contracts and which have then been awarded to national organisations.
"Other voluntary organisations have felt very disheartened by this experience and have voiced to GAVCA their fears that if Independence Trust, which is seen as one of the largest and most successful local Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations, cannot win such a contract, there is little hope for smaller organisations," said Mrs Pickering.
Gloucestershire County Council has indicated that previous grants and contracts to provide support to carers are also likely to be rolled together.
"There here has been a lot of engagement and dialogue with the VCS about the carers contract proposals during which concerns were raised. However, it is possible that the eventual tender specification will be one large contract, leaving many organisations in the VCS questioning whether it was worth giving up so much of their time to get involved in informing the commissioning process," said Mrs Pickering.