NCVO and Serco: building a code of practice for co-operation in public services – your comments wanted

Fiona Sheil was responsible for co-ordinating NCVO’s programme of seminars, training and advice work on public service commissioning and procurement. Fiona left NCVO in October 2013 but we have retained her blog posts for reference.

We are working together with SERCO to produce a code to promote good practice and co-operative working between the private sector and voluntary and community sector in the delivery of public services. We’re seeking your comment on this tool – it’s very much at draft stage.

We want to hear comments from you all about these draft guidelines. Do  they seem relevant and reasonable? Will they be a tool that will achieve  what you need out there on the frontline? Please let us know by  responding to psdnetwork@ncvo-vol.org.uk or commenting on this blog. This is only a draft – it’s your comments and input that will create something  workable and of practical use.

Read the Draft Code of Practice for Voluntary-Private Sector Cooperation NCVO and Serco (PDF 250 KB) and let us know your thoughts and comments. The deadine is Friday 15 June.

When government and other policy makers choose a public services model where large ‘prime’ contracts are run by large organisations, then this guide is intended to provide guidance and best practice advice.  These principles of good sub-contracting would equally apply to contracts directly managed by the public sector and, indeed, to contracting exclusively within the VCS. Read more about the background.

The background

We are working with SERCO to produce a code to promote good practice and co-operative working between the private sector and voluntary and community sector.  Partnership working between the sectors to deliver a range of services is already commonplace and it is likely that this will continue to grow under the coalition government’s public services reform agenda.

NCVO is the largest representative organisation for the VCS in England, with around 8,500 members, many of whom are engaged in designing and delivering public services. Serco is an international service company that improves the quality and efficiency of essential services that matter to millions of people around the world.  Both organisations are committed to explore the principles of good partnership working.

There are already a number of guidelines and requirements that govern these relationships, with the Compact as the primary mechanism for promoting good partnership working across sectors and this guide is intended to complement the Compact in a way that strengthens it for the VCS.  Although the Compact was originally drafted to govern relationships between the VCS and the state, its principles also apply wherever public services are delivered, including those delivered by the private sector.

There are a number of other, additional, agreements and guidelines including the Merlin standards which further outline how the private sector should manage supply chains and work with the voluntary sector across various government programmes and across many different departments.  These standards are not always well understood or used by both sectors.  Our sector has faced substantive challenges posed by the commissioning of public services that suggest a need to work together to resolve potential future problems.

If the private sector and VCS can work effectively together, then this has the potential to bring the specialist skills, dynamism, flexibility and innovation of the VCS together with the greater resources, scale, experience and wide ranging complementary skills of the private sector.  When government and other policy makers choose a public services model where large ‘prime’ contracts are run by large organisations, then this guide is intended to provide guidance and best practice advice.  These principles of good sub-contracting would equally apply to contracts directly managed by the public sector and, indeed, to contracting exclusively within the VCS.

Given that public service reform is likely to lead to more contracting for the VCS directly with the private sector, and less with the state, it is important that standards of sub-contracting are improved, that good practice is shared and that a better mutual understanding of the nature, motivations and needs of the respective sectors is fostered.
Good partnership working, including across sectors should include many of the elements in this guide, including:

  • Larger organisations should shoulder greater risks and manage contracts in a way that shields smaller organisations from higher levels of financial exposure;
  • Support in transitioning to a payment by results model;
  • Good supply chain management should have a commitment to building the capacity of all its parts, particularly the smallest organisations, at its heart;
  • Larger organisations should be using their access to greater levels of capital, and a greater capacity to take and manage risks to allow innovation and flexibility at the smaller, more localised end of supply chains.   Risk and cash flow challenges should not simply be passed down supply chains;
  • Finances should be managed in a fair and transparent way within supply chains, both to ensure that all suppliers are paid in a reasonable amount that allows them to operate sustainably, but also to ensure that a diverse range of types and sizes of organisations is allowed to operate in the public services market.
  • There should be a range of payment mechanisms available within supply chains that are designed to suit a range of organisations;
  • Negotiations for contracts should be conducted fairly, openly and in good faith.  Organisations should only be named on supply chains when there is a sincere and realistic expectation that they will actually be delivering a service;
  • Data should be shared regularly, and in a meaningful way, within supply chains to improve performance and to ensure that all suppliers are meeting their obligations.

 

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