Government must value role of the community & voluntary sector in public service delivery - new report

New report identifies the added-value that community and voluntaryorganisations contribute to human, social and community services.

Government should value the role community and voluntary organisations play in delivering public services, a new report published on Thursday, January 14th, 2016 states. 

The report, “Let’s Commission for Communities – valuing the community Let's Commission for Communities reportand voluntary approach to human, social and community services”, published by The Wheel, Clann Credo - the Social Investment Fund and the Community Foundation for Ireland, says the community and voluntary sector brings added value to services through additional funding, energy, endeavour and commitment in a way that is not, and never will be, available to the State.

It does this through an under-acknowledged network of 11,500 organisations, over half a million volunteers, 100,000 staff and a combined turnover of over €5.7bn a year.

The report warns that this “added value” could be lost if the current drift towards commissioning and funding models that focus entirely on minimising public spending and cost to the state, continues. In the process it risks seriously compromising quality and effectiveness of services and threatens to undermine the community and voluntary sector’s ability to deliver quality services, the report cautions.

The report recommends that social clauses be incorporated as part of tendering processes (as allowed under EU regulations). This should be linked to a thorough review of existing approaches to commissioning and funding public services.

"The concept of Societal Value creation must be central to the discussion of how to improve public services and achieve ever-better outcomes for people in Ireland."

Specifically the report proposes that:

  • Public bodies should work positively with the community and voluntary sector to ensure what we call the elements of societal value - quality, efficiency, responsiveness, accountability and equity - are delivered in public services
  • All public service arrangements should aim at creating ‘Societal Value’
  • Government departments, statutory agencies and local authorities should review existing approaches to commissioning / funding public services to ensure they are aligned to the maximisation of ‘Societal Value’.
  • The process of service commissioning should involve communities in identifying and agreeing their need and in determining appropriate outcomes. 
  • Government should develop guidelines and training to ensure local government, statutory bodies and government departments that allocate public funds have the capacity and capabilityto effectively commission and to deliver on a Societal Value creation framework.
  • Service commissioning should not exclude or disadvantage smaller organisations from consideration, especially when local, community and/or specialist services are being sought or on basis of contract size or capacity to accept risk
  • Ireland should avail of all the options permitting a greater use of social clauses when transposing the new European Directive on Public Procurement
  • Funding models should be based on a proportionate and sustainable sharing of risk between funder and service provider.
  • A Minister for Community and Voluntary Activity shouldbe appointedto work with the community and voluntary sector to develop a national strategy, incorporating a coherent long-term funding framework for the sector.

Commenting on the report Ivan Cooper, Director of Advocacy at The Wheel said:

“Commissioning is not identical to procurement or competitive tendering.  When competitive tendering is used, social clauses should be inserted to the greatest extent permitted under European Directives.

“Competitive tendering should only be used where this will demonstrably achieve a higher level of Societal Value creation. 

“Grant-allocationshould be retained as the preferred approach where organisations provide a specialist service or serve a specific community, especially disadvantaged or ‘hard to reach’ communities”, said Mr Cooper.

Anna Lee, spokesperson for the Community Foundation for Ireland said:

“These are all practical steps. They will not interfere with the overall development of economic policy or with overall procurement policy. Rather they will prove complementary.

“More importantly, they will also ensure that the Societal Value emanating from the hundreds of thousands of people who contribute to our economy and society through the Community & Voluntary sector will be maintained, cherished and encouraged into the future - for the benefit of all our futures.”

Jim Boyle, spokesperson for Clann Credo - the Social Investment Fund added:

“We hope the political parties and incoming government will take on board these practical steps. The community and voluntary sector will be working closely with all concerned to ensure that the concept of societal value is acknowledged and promoted, especially the new opportunities for positive community development as we emerge from recession.”

Download the report (PDF)