Tuesday 7 August 2012

Yes we can!

The next phase of the National Citizen Service is to involve private companies like SERCO. The Government need to tread with care when they commission this expansion.

Contracts that are based on genuine partnership between companies and charities can open up great opportunities; for scale and logistics tied with a charities ability to reach out, driven by their mission and ability to motivate staff and volunteers.

But it depends entirely on the contract and the deal reached . Catch 22 and Turning Point have reached entirely sensible contracts with SERCO in prisons. There is a genuine partnership. But the Work Programme has not been quite so clear cut.

The involvement of small voluntary organisations has not lived up to expectation following DWPs promises at the outset. And dare I mention that A4E has not been a shining role model for the private business apporach?

The sector will therefore rightly be keeping a close eye on how the Cabinet Office commission the NCS using private companies.

I urge them to take a look at a report out today by the IPPR. It concluded that charities run schools better than businesses.

They showed that there is no conclusive link between higher business school providers and school performance in the US,Sweden and Chile. The argue the Government should not allow business to run free schools. They argue there is a vibrant and strong non profit sector and we should continue to use it.

I think we are beginning to see a more balanced approach in policy on business and the sector. Gone are the days when it was assumed only private companies knew how to run a successful business. That you need to stuff executives mouths with gold to get them to perform.

I was always irritated by leadership studies that lauded the private sector whilst ignoring the third sector leadership approach. Now we know the corrupting culture of the financial industry we should be doubly aware of assuming only private companies can deliver good outcomes.

As the sector continues to grow I believe there is a role for partnership between business and sector. I think we will see this grow and help us expand. We already know that boundaries are blurring between the sectors. If you have a client based outcome model you obsess less on what uniform the staff wear- private, public or third sector.

But it's an approach based on mutual respect, profit/surplus sharing and a genuine focus on outcomes for clients not shareholders.

So let's hope the Cabinet Office will base NCS on that model. Join up the strengths of our sectors and commission that way. But I also hope that as we grow we will see third sector SERCOs competing on equal terms with business.

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