big society – only big fry need apply

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:

french fries
image by relitron
  1. Pre-tender when criteria are worked out
  2. The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)
  3. 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.

One thought on “big society – only big fry need apply

  1. Further to this – Boris Johnson’s “Mayors Green Procurement Code” had a voluntary sign-up for SMEs until this week. Now the consultants LRS who run it have decided with Boris to monetise it – so a sole trader like myself would have to pay £299 annually to stay a member.

    So why would you stay a member?.. because if you aren’t and you apply for any GLA contracts you’ll never get past the PQQ stage.

    As a friend remarked… at least you knew where you stood with the old backhander.

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