Public services news round-up: March 2016

Budget 2016 – what’s in it for the sector?

The chancellor’s latest budget announced a number of policies that could affect the voluntary sector. This included:

  • funding for some charities from LIBOR fines and the tampon tax
  • spending cuts, including an additional £3.5bn of cuts to departmental spending by 2019/20
  • additional devolution announcements, which, in different areas, included public service elements
  • changes in business rate relief for small businesses, which could benefit charities with smaller premises and small social enterprises – crucially the Treasury said that they were not changing the 80% level of mandatory business rate relief for charities.

It also announced reduced eligibility for personal independence payments, but these plans were dropped following Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation.

See Michael Birtwistle’s blog post for NCVO’s full budget analysis.

Government report highlights barriers in contracting for SMEs

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a new report looking at government contracting with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It finds that whilst government aimed to promote contracting with these organisations and had launched initiatives to encourage this, there was a lack of data to evidence improvement.

It highlights barriers to SMEs bidding for contracts, including difficulties finding out about contracts that are out to tender; risk-averse commissioning; and excessive bidding processes.

It also looks at specific problems faced by the voluntary sector, such as having limited resources for taking part in tendering opportunities, or being used as ‘bid candy’ by prime providers.

Read Nick’s blog post on SME contracting to find out more about how the NAO’s findings apply to voluntary sector organisations.

Anti-advocacy clause – the fight continues

NCVO is working hard to pressure government to abandon plans for a clause to be added to grants that would prevent grant recipients from using grant funding to lobby or influence government.

The Cabinet Office have provided partial answers to our five key questions. Positively, they have confirmed that not all local authority grants will be affected. However, overall the response is still deeply unsatisfactory.

We remain concerned about the potential chilling effect the clause could have on charities, how much the use of the clause will depend on ministerial and official interpretation and potential delays to grants when applying for exemptions. Charlotte’s blog post has further details.

Discuss how local authorities want to work with the sector

Our annual conference is a fantastic opportunity to meet other sector leaders and understand what the future has in store for the voluntary sector. An afternoon workshop on how local authorities want to work with the sector will present an expert panel of commissioners that are innovating in their local areas.

Compact survey – improvement in relationships with commissioners

The latest Compact Voice survey of local compacts has found that the voluntary sector believed that it was becoming less able to campaign, and expected falls in funding.

However, it also found that the majority of voluntary sector respondents felt their relationships with commissioners had improved or remained the same, whilst more CCGS, Police and Crime Commissioners and LEPs have committed to local partnership working by signing a local compact.

Criminal justice voluntary sector faces significant pressures

Clinks have released their 2016 state of the sector report. It found that the sector faced a number of pressures. The needs of service users have grown and changed, leading to some organisations to design new services.

Organisations have had to use more of their resources on income generation, and have been less able to work around their core purpose. Whilst the majority of organisations deliver contracts, only a few are able to reach full cost recovery. 48% said that they were using their reserves, and there was a rise in the number of organisations fearing closure.

Call now open for annual research conference

The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference is the leading opportunity in the UK for academics, policy makers and practitioners to come together to share and discuss research on the voluntary sector and volunteering. One of the themes is the role of the voluntary sector in public service delivery. Research ideas must be submitted by 2 May.

Large charities make losses delivering public services

CFG has launched the latest results from its Finance Count benchmarking tool. It has found that charities often are unable to make a surplus on public service contracts or agreements they deliver, with a median surplus of 0%. Losses were higher for large organisations, which made a median loss of 11%.

It has also released a new discussion paper, ‘Whither value? Voluntary organisations and the delivery of public services’. This calls for the public sector to make greater use of pooled budgets to enable greater social value commissioning, whilst the voluntary sector could look to offer services more efficiently, for example, through forming consortia or procuring supplies together.

NCVO public services conference 2016

Join us for NCVO’s public service conference ‘Stronger sector, better services’ this September. This will be an exciting chance to gain practical tools and guidance on the role of the voluntary sector in public services.

Register your interest for further information- speakers and workshops will be announced shortly.


The local authority view: how we want to work with the sector in the next five years

Join hundreds of sector leaders at NCVO annual conference on 18 April. This workshop will discuss what local authorities expect from the sector and how we can prepare ourselves.

Find out more about NCVO Annual Conference 2016


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Bethan was NCVO’s trainee public services officer.

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