The changes going on in the voluntary sector, whilst the government talks up social enterprises, advantage the large organisations able to make the most of contract culture. At a training course last week put on by Social Enterprise London, we were told that the gloves were off, grant aid was dead (oh, really?), competitive tendering was going to be the only game in town.
All government and local government work will be decided in 3 phases:
Pre-tender when criteria are worked out
The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)
The Invitation to Tender (ITT)
Stage 1 is where large companies and consultancies have the most sway, with the best results. They are involved in designing the contract, putting up ideas, doing research for the authority. They have schmoozers on their PR staffs to do this. KPMG, Price Waterhouse and and other beancounters are all interested in the these contracts
Stage 2 is where everyone who expresses an interest to tender gets annihilated. The box tickers rule out people without adequate health and safety policies, environmental policies, equality and diversity policies and 3 years of published accounts. Sole traders are usually ignored. People to whom the contract value is more than 20% of their turnover are out. Most organisations fail this stage. That is it’s function.
Stage 3, if you get there, is where you can score – but if you get one contract in 10 tenders you’d be lucky. Given the 20% rule, you’d need at least 5 or 6 contracts running concurrently to be able to operate with government funding. The amount of time and energy required makes it a Big Fry Society.
The worst is what it does to expertise and experience that has already been built up in the community. When these organisations die because they’ve lost contracts, they are often replaced by organisations that haven’t got any decent track-record but merely score on bureaucratic point systems.
One good example of this is what has been happening with the Legal Services Commission contracts – on which I hope to post later.
On Tuesday my young colleague Gurjar and I spent a fruitful day sorting out our stock cupboard which is full of old computers, tape drives, cables and the general detritus of computer maintenance. Machines that were the pride of their owners a few years ago, on the cutting edge of technology now no longer able to run the software they need today. Breaks your heart.
And of course you can’t just chuck this stuff out anyway. First you have to take out the hard disc and attack it with a hammer so that sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Then you have to take anything covered by the EU WEEE directive (most electronics) to the corporation tip or some other centre that has the proper facilities for dealing with it.
Last time I did a round up of old kit for my customers, the council tip charged me £15 per computer monitor and the other stuff on a weight basis. Householders can do this for free so I’d advise anyone with just a couple of things to dispose of to do it as a domestic user.
So next time a commercial firm makes a donation of their old computers to your organisation bear in mind that besides the costs of configuring it to your software and infrastructure, you’ll also be paying in time and money to dispose of the kit that it supercedes.
I started Pipal Associates after I left Charter88, the constitutional reform campaign, in 1997. I had been their systems manager and before that had worked in computer training in east London. Before I got involved with computers in the early ’80s I had done a series of youth and community work jobs as well as teaching and so I was drawn to the 3rd sector for my client base.
This still holds true today where my current client list includes City of London Citizens Advice Bureau, Changing Faces, East London Financial Inclusion Unit (ELFI), Hackney Marsh Partnership, London Detainees Support Group, London Hazard Centre, Wandsworth Carers and Waltham Forest Citizens Advice Bureaux.
My website has been a static lump of a thing for all that time – so now I’ve changed it to a blog to see if and how it develops