Herald Scotland: Councils Putting Quality Second

Posted: 02 March 2010, in Press Release

Councils are putting price ahead of quality when commissioning public services from the voluntary sector, according to new research.

A survey of voluntary organisations working in all of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, also found that many councils were ignoring an agreement to work with charities to plan the delivery of public services.

The study was carried out by Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) at the request of cabinet secretary for finance John Swinney MSP.

It found that most councils which commission charities to deliver public services do not build any uplift into contracts to take account of inflation. Where voluntary organisations manage to achieve savings, councils often claw them back, making it hard for the organisations to invest in new or innovative work.

Many charities felt competitive tendering processes were driving down costs, by forcing top quality, reasonably priced voluntary sector service providers out of the market.

Meanwhile an agreement last autumn that the voluntary sector should be represented on all community planning partnerships to help design public services, was not being adhered to. SCVO named Glasgow, Highland, North Ayrshire and Stirling as councils which still refuse to allow the third sector to be represented. Lucy McTernan, deputy chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “It is extremely disappointing that local government still sees our sector as an easy target for cuts. Our sector provides high quality public services, often more efficiently and effectively than the private or public sector. Yet many councils still refuse to play fair, either in funding or decision making.

“Increasingly, councils are under pressure to come up with a new approach to public service delivery. I would urge the Scottish Government to intervene to ensure councils listen to, support and fund the sector to create a new era of improved, cost-effective public services.”