05 August 2004 | Sally Mesner
The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) is calling for a forum of public-sector purchasers and charities to get more charities involved in government contracts.
Forum members would share best practice and consider creating framework contracts for commodities such as wheelchairs and hearing aids. The government recently set up a £125 million fund to support voluntary groups wanting to compete for contracts (see News
, 10 June).
A new report by the RNID on adding value to public services showcases its procurement of digital hearing aids in partnership with the Department of Health (DoH), saving £50 million.
The report said charities needed to bring more rigorous business practices to their delivery of services and be proactive in their approach to procurement.
A RNID spokesman said: "The voluntary sector must have a more dynamic contractual relationship with the government, influencing what should be contracted in the first place rather than just waiting for the contracts to come along. When it comes to procurement, charities should operate like a business."
He suggested that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) could be a driver in setting up a specific organisation that could help charities to market their services and pitch their ideas to government.
An NCVO spokeswoman welcomed the suggestion: "With more government activity being outsourced to the sector, voluntary organisations will have to develop a wide range of management skills, such as contract negotiation, evaluation and partnership working."
The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) said it had already worked with the DoH on a pilot scheme to provide a comprehensive service for partially sighted people.
Deborah Hamlin, assistant director for partnerships and professional support at the RNIB, said: "There is a tendency for these services to be very fragmented. We are trying to provide a comprehensive model where all these things are dealt with by the same service."