Amanda Carpenter of Big Society Partnership
outlines some of the challenges and opportunities for the
Civil Society, CIC, social enterprise, IPS, spin off mutual,
John Lewis model, social business - suddenly the terminology and
nomenclature of what we had all got used to calling the Third
Sector has changed. This myriad of names reflects the diversity and
complexity of this emerging and vitally important group of social
and ethical businesses, which in the words of the National Audit
Office, 'occupy the space between the state and the private
But whatever one calls them they all face the same essential
challenge - that of finding or generating sufficient income to
remain sustainable in difficult economic circumstances. As the
recession continues to bite, personal donations are falling and
charitable funding is ever more scarce, these Civil Society
organisations are grappling with a greater change - that of
commissioning and contracting. In the past local authorities were
content to issue grants to charities and social enterprises to
deliver frontline services in health and social care. Now the drive
for greater efficiency and economies mean that multiple grants have
been rolled up into large single contracts, often running into
hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds, putting them far
above the reach of many of the traditional providers. This drive
towards central procurement of services seems to sit at odds with
the national government commitment to localism - local services
delivered by local groups for local people.
Central commissioning and procurement makes sense financially
for many local authorities - why issue 20 contracts to 20 providers
when you could issue one instead? But the challenge is to ensure
that the smaller and medium sized groups do not miss out on
opportunities to deliver essential frontline services.
Prime contracting by a large national provider, sometimes
charitable but more often commercial, with sub contracts issued to
local provider organisations could be the answer. However, the
recent high profile example of this - the Work Programme
demonstrates that is a very difficult model to get right. Many
charities were barred from bidding due to the size of the
contracts, while others have found themselves in less than
satisfactory sub contracting arrangements.
A new social business The Big Society Partnership hopes to help
redress the balance. This employee owned business has been set up
by two Kent based entrepreneurs to develop and build consortia of
providers drawn from both civil society and small business sectors.
Acting as a Third Sector prime the Big Society Partnership will bid
for and manage large contracts to be delivered by the specialized
and often smaller charities working as a consortium at local
'we are hoping to offer a viable attractive alternative for
both commissioners and providers, one based on ethical principles
that seeks to keep the social pound in the economy for longer'
said Amanda Carpenter Co- Founder of the BSP.
Along with her co-founder Stephen Bell, Amanda has also
established a new industrial provident society - a member owned and
member run Big Society Co-operative, which will be supported by
profits from the partnership. The BSC offers low cost back office
services to its members at reduced rates.
Bircham Dyson Bell are one of three firms selected to provide
services to co-operative members. For more details see their
The Big Society Co-operative has recently been awarded
£600,000 from the Office for Civil Society (Big Fund)
Transforming Local Infrastructure grant - the only IPS to receive
such an award.
Perhaps it is not just the language that is changing but the
mindsets as well.
Big Society Partnership, a brand new venture set up to respond
to the new demands and changes affecting the civil society sector.
Changes in funding, in service delivery, in working practices and
in the relationship between local authorities, community based
organisations and the private sector.
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In a recent judgment, the High Court decided that a contracting entity for the purposes of the public procurement rules was entitled to reject a tender for a framework agreement where part of the tender was submitted 26 minutes late.