18 September 2007 | Paul Snell
An inquiry is to investigate whether the third sector has unfairly missed out on government contracts.
Last week the Department for Work and Pensions awarded 15 Pathways to Work contracts to five private sector firms and one third sector group. The contracts are for organisations to provide help in getting unemployed people back to work. The winners of 16 more contracts will be announced in December.
But the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), which will conduct the scrutiny, claims there were "serious inconsistencies [in the purchasing process] which cannot be ignored".
"The recent round of tendering for major employment services resulted in only one third sector organisation being offered contracts and the sector losing out overall," said Stephen Bubb, chief executive of ACEVO.
"There is huge anger in the sector with what seem to be serious problems with the process. Many are now being forced to look at redundancies."
ACEVO is to set up an independent inquiry to review the purchasing process, with a board chaired by Dame Mavis McDonald, former cabinet secretary in the Cabinet Office and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The team will also include Roy Ayliffe, CIPS director of professional practice.
Caroline Flint, the minister for employment and welfare reform, said: "All contracts were procured through open and fair competition in accordance with public procurement policy and EU regulations, using the Jobcentre Plus website.
"Bids were welcomed in both tendering rounds from the private, public and voluntary sectors. On this basis, the second tendering round will remain on schedule, to ensure the service is available nationally from April 2008.
"While we do not accept that the third sector was overlooked, we are always ready to listen to any concerns that ACEVO or its members may have."