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Swindon's Voluntary Sector Response to Governments Transforming Public Procurement Consultation

Following the launch of a Transforming Public Procurement consultation by the government, Voluntary Action Swindon has facilitated a joint response from the Swindon voluntary & community sector which was submitted to the government on behalf of the wider sector.

Due to the number of questions being asked in the consultation the responses given focused on the questions which would best help protect local voluntary & community sector groups.

Working with local partners we were able to submit the following in response to the consultation:

Q4. Do you agree with consolidating the current regulations into a single, uniform framework?
No – because even the current individual frameworks don’t currently handle the diversity of commissioning services or purchasing very well – leading to the effort involved by small but professional local voluntary sector delivery providers to tender for relatively small contracts being totally disproportionate. It is not clear how the new proposed Framework addresses this issue.

Q8. Are there areas where our proposed reforms could go further to foster more effective innovation in procurement?
This one size fits all approach is outdated and disproportionate to the smaller local, but professional, voluntary organisations who have the local knowledge, can be responsive and adaptable and deliver the service needed for the service user. Larger national charities with established back office functions are often able to undercut and submit a more ‘economically advantageous tender’ which is not always in the best interests of the locality or the service user. From our experience we know that ‘skinny delivery’ built to a price point and managed by national organisations with no local presence, often result in additional and invisible costs for Public Services and other local agencies. A great deal of effort is being put in place by Local Authorities to move more towards community led support and provision at the locality place alongside a current procurement system which disadvantages the very providers who are best placed to deliver such a service. There is nothing in this reform that addresses this need with a proportionate approach that makes it attractive for smaller providers to want to participate in government procurement.

Q9. Are there specific issues you have faced when interacting with contracting authorities that have not been raised here and which inhibit the potential for innovative solutions or ideas?

  1. A rigid and often outdated approach to commissioning reusing standard out of date tender frameworks that have not taken into account a fresh analysis of local need or moved in tune with the desire for more community led support.
  2. Disproportionate tender processes and contracts for relatively low level commissioned voluntary sector services.
  3. A focus on outputs rather than outcomes along with heavy reporting requirements – very different to what we experience with large funders such as National Lottery.
  4. Decisions by local commissioners to proceed with a non competitive tenders overruled -only for the single bidder to have to then jump through all the hoops of a competitive tender to find out when awarded the contract that they were the only bidder!
  5. Contracts being awarded over multiple years at the same flat rate with no uplift at all for inflation which in turn makes it difficult to retain well trained staff who have no progression opportunity.
  6. The wasted resource of both commissioners and bidders when a respected local existing service is delivering in line or ahead of contract and to a high quality but is having to be re-tendered when neither the commissioner or provider wish it to because the framework dictates that it must and the impact of this both on staff retention and the wellbeing of staff on both sides.

Q11. What further measures relating to pre-procurement processes should the Government consider to enable public procurement to be used as a tool to drive innovation in the UK?
A greater emphasis on local needs analysis prior to procurement and a framework that puts the needs of the customer at the heart of the procurement process. The ability to commission multiple organisations to work in partnership to deliver services to optimise the service to the customer rather than dilute it through competitive tendering.

Q13. Do you agree that the award of a contract should be based on the “most advantageous tender” rather than “most economically advantageous tender”?
Definitely. When commissioning local voluntary sector services for local people, the needs and demographics of the local community and the quality of local knowledge and networks plus the ability to provide a continuity of service should factor more highly in the tendering process rather than simply the economics of a tender.

Q23. Do you agree with the proposal to carry out a simplified selection stage through the supplier registration system?

Q29. Do you agree that a central digital platform should be established for commercial data, including supplier registration information?

No – we are nervous of any centralised system across this breadth of procurement and how this could ever be appropriate and proportionate to smaller local providers and how a one size fits all on policies, for example, could ever work. The only way this could work is if a centralised system had different requirements based on the nature, focus and turnover of the bidder which were proportionate and relevant to smaller local voluntary sector bidders. Local Authorities need to be empowered to deliver what is best for their localities.

In the last few days Third Sector Magazine has published an article on their website calling on the government to listen to the voluntary sector over new procurement bill. This article can be read here Listen to the voluntary sector over new Procurement Bill, government urged | Third Sector (please note you will need to register in order to read the article)