Public services news round-up: January 2017

Welcome to the first public services news round-up of the year. If you have any thoughts, questions or challenges then please leave a comment below or tweet us @NCVO or @NJ_Davies.

Volunteering and public services

Volunteers are crucial for the delivery of high quality public services. An estimated three million volunteer in health and some 500,000 in policing. As the financial pressure on public services has grown, so too has the recognition that if service standards are to be maintained then communities will need to play a greater role in provision. Yet concerns have also been raised about the threat of job substitution and volunteer expertise.

In his new year letter to the sector, Sir Stuart Etherington has called for a national debate about volunteering in public services. Rejecting ideological limits and the suggestion that voluntary means amateur, the letter praises the unique value of the contribution made by volunteers. In a subsequent speech, Karl Wilding has elaborated on NCVO’s thinking about this topic.

Small charities and public services

I have an article on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about the government’s proposals to support smaller charities to play a bigger role in public services. I argue that ensuring that the programme is a success will require long-term government commitment.

How to keep it local

Locality has published a simple five-step guide for commissioners and local councillors on how to prioritise local delivery for the benefit of local services and communities. This builds on their excellent work highlighting the diseconomies of scale in public service provision.

The outcomes of outcomes-based contracts

Reform have published a new report, ‘Faulty by Design’, which evaluates the success of current approaches to commissioning. Most interestingly, it identifies the weaknesses associated with outcomes-based contracts. In particular, the difficulties of measurement and attribution as well as the perverse incentives that are created. However, unlike others who have argued that these are fundamental flaws, this report suggests that they can be overcome with better design.

Changes to VAT legislation post-Brexit?

Following Theresa May’s speech outlining the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations, my colleague Brendan has blogged on the implications for the voluntary sector. In particular, leaving the single market means that EU legislation need no longer apply. VAT regulations, one such example of legislation set by the EU, preclude charities from claiming back VAT on any goods or services that they sell (unlike private sector companies). This arrangement currently costs the sector about £1.5bn a year, but Brexit provides an opportunity to revise the legislation once the UK has left the EU. NCVO will be exploring this possibility further, and we would like to know whether any other organisations have already done thinking on this matter, or would like to feed into our work. If so, please get in touch with Brendan Costelloe.

Participate in the next Commissioning Academy

Applications are now open for the next Cabinet Office Commissioning Academy comprising five full-day sessions over six months including master classes, workshops, expert speakers, site visits, peer challenge, practical action planning and membership of a vibrant alumni network. The Academy begins in February and spaces are filling quickly, so if you or colleagues are interested please contact us soon.

Constructive Voices – tell your story

NCVO is building a resource to enable us to provide journalists with stories demonstrating positive impact covering a broad range of issue areas, including mental health, homelessness, domestic abuse, the environment and many others. This will be especially useful when charities are under attack in the media. You can submit a story highlighting your positive impact on the Constructive Voices website.


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Avatar photo 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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