Headlines: April 22nd, 2009

Despite the Government’s commitment to make increasing use of the third sector in delivering public services, progress has been slow. A new agreement between the Department of Health and specialist third sector organisations is set to increase the flow of contracts for health and social care services.

The first test of a major procurement exercise in 2007 was a dismal failure with only one third sector organisation securing a contract for the Department for Work and Pension’s pathways to work programme. An independent inquiry found no conspiracy to squeeze out third sector organisations, but practical realities such as the guidance under which those procuring services operate and the scale of risk bidders for contracts are expected to take.

Department of Health has now joined forces with 11 specialist organisations including Age Concern, the Men’s Health Forum and the Race Equality Foundation in a bid to transform the way it works with third sector organizations. The 5.5 million pound ‘Third Sector Strategic Partner programme’ will support third sector organisations to build on their skills and knowledge to improve health and social care services and act as advocates, as well as ensuring input from the sector in developing health and social care policy.

The failure of third sector oganisations to secure contracts in the past was due to the practices and constraints of those who commission services, as well as to inadequacies in bidding ogranisations. For example, commitments to secure efficiency savings by reducing the number of contracts in an area effectively shut out many third sector organizations. The new agreement should ensure that commissioners and bidders operate on common ground.