Buyers warned over 'lip-service' to voluntary groups

15 April 2013

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15 April 2013 | Adam Leach

Buyers and their prime contractors should build a two-way dialogue with voluntary organisations to boost their participation in contract delivery and avoid simply paying ‘lip-service’ to them.

In a new code of practice published last week, by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and services group Serco, prime contractors are warned against just portraying an interest in third sector contractors to improve their chances of winning tenders. It urged them to hold regular discussions with the sector if interest or participation starts to decline and address any concerns held by potential vendors.

The code recommends prime contractors use their position and power to help strengthen the position of their sub-contractors. On cashflow and financial health, it advises them to: pass on the government’s 30-day maximum payment terms; make benchmarks for payment clear; provide appropriate break and compensation clauses when payment is not made. It also advises them to let subcontractors buy with them, to boost purchasing power.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said: “We are certainly not saying subcontracting is always the right way to deliver public services. But where services are delivered in this way, we want to make sure that they are delivered well and that subcontractors are treated fairly.”

NCVO and Serco are urging organisations to adopt the code. Jeremy Stafford, chief executive of Serco UK & Europe, which has committed to following it, said: “This code sets the bar high for how companies such as Serco should work alongside their partners in the voluntary sector – and rightly so. Their skills complement ours and by pulling together we can bring innovation and fresh thinking to the delivery of public services.”

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