Public services news round-up: May 2016

This month, we look at the voluntary sector in health and social care, whole systems commissioning, government transparency and accountability, government working with SMEs, and Transforming Rehabilitation. If you have any thoughts, comments or challenges then please leave a comment below or tweet us @ncvobeth or @ncvo.

Voluntary sector should be central to NHS working

The VCSE Review’s final report  has recognised the valuable contribution the voluntary sector makes to the health and social care system, and calls for CCGs, hospitals and councils to do more to involve the sector in developing and delivering services.

The report, based on the largest ever review of the sectors involvement in statutory health and care services, was developed by the voluntary sector, the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England, with NCVO as secretariat.

It finds that complex commissioning practices can exclude many voluntary sector organisations from being involved in statutory health services. Its recommendations for public sector bodies include:

  • strategy – increasing voluntary sector involvement in strategic decision-making, including in transformation programmes and when developing local strategic plans
  • funding – providing funding that is long-term, using the simplest possible funding mechanism
  • social value – placing a greater emphasis on social value in commissioning processes
  • guidance– Revising guidance for CCGs so that they emphasise the need to work with the voluntary sector
  • health inequalities – increasing efforts to lower health inequalities, with the voluntary sector as a key partner to enable community engagement
  • volunteering – developing high-quality volunteering opportunities.

A summary of the findings is available in a blog post from the review chair. A short version comprising the vision and recommendations is also available.

Government transparency in grants and contract

Government has published important commitments to improve transparency in its 2016-18 Open Government National Action Plan (NAP). These include:

  • open contracting – publishing data from all phases of contracting
  • grant transparency – collecting more data about grant making and ensuring more of this is publically available.

NCVO believes that these aims could help improve government accountability, and enable government to understand who it is funding and improve market stewardship. See my blog post for further details.

Whole systems commissioning with the voluntary sector

The New Local Government Network has called for whole systems commissioning to support people with complex needs, facilitated by improved partnership working between local authorities and the voluntary sector.

The report, All Together Now, recommends that local authorities take steps to enable smaller charities to deliver services, such as by placing more emphasis on social value in commissioning, and by providing grant funding for specialist services.

It says that the way voluntary sector and commissioners work together could be improved, for example, by commissioners involving the sector when designing services. It also finds that commissioners could do more to encourage joint working within the voluntary sector, such as by allowing enough time for partnerships to develop or funding infrastructure to help organise partnerships.


The Public Accounts Committee has found that departmental accountability mechanisms have not fully adapted to changes in how services are delivered, such as increases in outsourcing and the greater use of devolution.

It has also found that accountability officers, who are responsible to parliament for departmental spending, often have inadequate performance or cost data to oversee service delivery. Full details can be found in the committee’s report Accountability to Parliament for Taxpayers’ Money.

Calls for improved work with SMEs

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found that government needs to renew its work to enable SMEs, which includes the majority of voluntary sector organisations, to win contracts.  A key recommendation in the new report is that government should focus efforts on sectors most suited to SME working: it highlights Lloyds Bank Foundation’s suggestion of looking at social welfare because of the user-focused services small charities can offer.

PAC also finds that many initiatives to improve VCSE access to contracts, such as commercial masterclasses, have ended: Cabinet Office has told the committee that it will step up its work in this area. Other recommendations include improving:

  • leadership around working with SMES
  • measurement of government spending with SMEs
  • the information available on Contracts Finder.

It also calls for government to fill the crown representative for VCSEs post, which has been empty since October 2014.

Transforming rehabilitation

The NAO has published a new report looking at the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. This finds that whilst the quality of probation services had largely been maintained during restructuring, there are still issues to be resolved, such as how funding for CRCs can be used to encourage them to commission new, innovative services.

With regards to the voluntary sector, it finds that charities feel government had not been realistic about their chance of winning CRC contracts, or clear about the requirements it had of organisations at an early enough stage.

It also found that some specialist services, such as domestic abuse, were lacking in some places, and cites research from Clinks, NCVO and the Third Sector Research Centre finding that making this information available could help providers design services to fill these gaps. It recommends NOMS works with the voluntary sector to find and develop these services.

Consortia development

This June we are hosting a course on building a successful consortium course, which will cover everything you need to know to set up a consortia. Ran by one of our expert consultants, the intensive, one day programme will cover the commissioning landscape, legal and operating models, how to influence commissioners and engage with members. You can book online today.

Public service conference

NCVO’s Public Services Conference 2016: Stronger Sector, Better Services, will provide practical tools and guidance on the role of the voluntary sector in public services. It takes place on 26 September, and you can register your interest now. Full details of the day will be published shortly.


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Bethan was NCVO’s trainee public services officer.

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