Public services news round-up: October 2016

Welcome to October’s public services news round-up. We’ve got a great edition this month looking at payment by results, National Citizen Service, good funding practice and more. If you have any thoughts, questions or challenges then please leave a comment below or tweet us @NCVO @NJ_Davies.

Payment by…?

The spread of payment by results (PbR) public service contracts in recent years has been largely based on the assumption that they help commissioners achieve value for money. If targets aren’t met then the provider doesn’t get paid – what could go wrong? News from the last fortnight suggests quite a lot.

Firstly, the long awaited evaluation of the Troubled Families programme was published. This found no ‘consistent evidence that the programme had any significant or systematic impact’. As a result, the scheme’s PbR mechanism, under which most local authorities claimed that they had both identified and then ‘turned around’ 100% of the troubled families in their area, has come under heavy criticism. It is well worth reading the analysis of Jonathan Portes who was part of the evaluation team and the slightly more positive take by Liam Booth-Smith of Localis.

Secondly, following the early ending of a tax credit contract with outsourcer Concentrix, the government has pledged never to outsource such services again. In a parliamentary debate, both Labour and SNP frontbenches were extremely critical of Concentrix’s PbR contract.

Both of these cases provided further real world examples of the problems with PbR identified by Dr Toby Lowe and Kathy Evans in a guest post for NCVO earlier this year.

And finally, if this isn’t enough PbR excitement for one month then you should watch the government’s snazzy new animation providing an overview of social impact bonds.

National Citizen Service

The National Citizen Service bill, which was introduced in Parliament earlier this month, last week successfully passed its second reading. My colleague Emily Graham has blogged on the key elements of the bill and how you can get involved.

Good grant making and commissioning

Grants for Good, the campaign to champion government grant making, has published a short guide setting out 10 principles of good grant making. These include setting clear objectives, using realistic timescales and ensuring that monitoring and reporting are proportionate.

This month also saw the publication by ERSA of a guide for local authorities on how to better commission for skills and employment services. Similarly, Hackney CVS have published a guide on the approach that they take to commissioning.

Small is impactful

New research from NAVCA highlights the difficulties smaller charities have when using data to demonstrate their value and the role of local infrastructure in overcoming these difficulties. Without such support, there is a risk that highly effective services delivered by smaller organisations are overlooked by commissioners.


A report by Transparency International UK has concluded that whilst the UK is a world leader in public spending transparency, it is still failing to provide full and open scrutiny over how taxpayers’ money is being spent. For example, in over a third of public contracts, it is unclear to whom they have been awarded.

Volunteers in public services

Volunteers have always made a massive contribution to our public services, but they are likely to become even more important in the future. NCVO’s Matthew Hill and the TSRC’s Angela Ellis Paine have co-written a chapter arguing that the role of volunteers in third sector organisations that deliver public services has become narrower and more circumscribed over time as the logics that shape volunteering have shifted.

They identify five key shifts:

  • Family/association to business/bureaucracy
  • Amateur to professional
  • Member/owner to unpaid worker
  • Peer to client
  • Active citizenship to service

All stated shifts are followed by a question mark as they argue the trends are complex, nuanced and far from total as well as this demonstrating a general lack of evidence on this subject. The chapter is part of an edited volume exploring the role of third sector organisations in public service delivery more widely. You can read a blog post on it by James Rees of Open University.

Step-by-step guide to consortium development

Last month we published a free ten-stage guide on developing a successful consortium. This includes advice on seed fundinggetting support of commissioners and other stakeholdersrecruiting and vetting members, and establishing the governance structure.


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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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