Public services news round-up: December 2016

Welcome to the final public services news round up of the year. We might only be two-thirds of the way through the month but it has been a very busy December indeed. If you have any thoughts, questions or challenges then please leave a comment below or tweet us @NCVO or @NJ_Davies. Otherwise, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Grant making standards and the anti-lobbying clause

The government has published a set of 10 minimum grant-making standards for departments and arm’s length bodies. These include common sense proposals such as requiring strong businesses cases and grant-making being competitive by default.

Standard six, which focusses on eligible expenditure, replaces the anti-lobbying clause which had been announced in February and subsequently ‘paused’ in April in response to concerns about its impact expressed by NCVO and others. The new wording is not perfect but it is a significant improvement. In particular, it gives more discretion to individual departments and recognises that activities such as raising issues with ministers and civil servants, responding to consultations and contributing to the general policy debate can all be legitimate expenditure.

Monitoring implementation will be crucial. NCVO will be keeping a close eye on the issue and charities signing or resigning grant agreements should ensure that terms are clear and not overly restrictive. If you have concerns then do please get in touch.

For further information I’d recommend the article by Sir Stuart Etherington and our joint statement with Social Enterprise UK and ACEVO.

Small is beautiful

In further welcome news, Rob Wilson has announced an initial package of three measures to support greater involvement of small and medium-sized charities in public services:

  • Developing a ‘public service incubator’ that helps small charities get commissioned.
  • Exploring the development of a commissioning kitemark that will enable commissioners to show their commitment to small charity-friendly commissioning.
  • Recruiting a voluntary, community and social enterprise crown representative.

It is really positive that the government has recognised the statutory funding squeeze faced by smaller charities. We’re hopeful that this announcement is just the start and I’ve blogged in a little more detail about what we’d like to see next.

Compelling evidence for the need for government action in this area can be found in the Lloyds Bank Foundation’s new report on commissioning practice. This catalogues numerous examples of unrealistic payment structures, inaccurate information, absurd and irrelevant demands, unfair and opaque decision making, funding shortfalls, unfunded TUPE requirements, forced mergers and inappropriate contract amalgamation. The combined effect is to disadvantage small, local organisations bidding for contracts. The report is a must read for commissioners and policy makers alike.

Local government funding

The local government finance settlement for 2017/18 has been published. In addition to confirming further cuts to central government funding for councils, it was announced that changes would be made to the social care precept.

Local authorities are able to raise council tax by 1.99% without triggering a referendum. The precept allows an additional 3% to be levied to raise funds for adult social care. Previously the precept was restricted to 2%, though councils can still only increase it by 6% across the next three years. Whilst welcoming the additional flexibility, both the Local Government Association and Institute for Fiscal Studies have been clear that this will do little to alleviate pressure on social care services.

Practical support

If you’re new to public service contracting then we’ve got a wide selection of free resources to help you learn the ropes. These cover all aspects of the commissioning cycle and contracting – from deciding whether or not to bid through to writing pre-qualification questionnaires and tenders, and forming consortia. We also explain some of the technical aspects of commissioning in detail, such as the law covering TUPE  and monitoring outcomes.

 

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Nick Davies Nick was NCVO's public services manager until March 2017. He is also a trustee of the South London Relief in Sickness Fund.

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