Alignment or divergence?The main elements of the UK Government’s BigSociety proposals are:• community empowerment: giving localcouncils and neighbourhoods more powerto take decisions and shape their area;• opening up public services: enablingvoluntary organisations, charities, socialenterprises, and employee-owned cooperativesto compete to offer publicservices; and• social action: encouraging and enablingpeople to play a more active part in society.Equipped to deliver?While the UK Government would like to seecharities taking over the operation of publicservices, there has been concern that Englandbased,private sector prime contractors are likelyto see the greatest benefit from this approach.The Department for Work and Pensions recentlyreleased a list of prime contractors that willdeliver its Work Programme across the UK, and88 per cent of these were private companies,largely based in England.Work Programme contracts won, by sectorIs the Welsh third sectorequipped to compete withEngland-based organisationsfor public services contracts?PrivateThe principles of civic participation andcommunity empowerment that are at theheart of the Big Society resound strongly inWales. However, is the Welsh third sectorequipped to compete with England-basedorganisations for public services contracts?VoluntaryPublicThe voluntary sector in WalesThe Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)estimates that there are around 30,000 thirdsector organisations and groups in Wales,including 8,475 registered charities. Over 90 percent of these organisations are classed as local,branches or projects. There are over 50,000 paidposts in the third sector, which is equivalent to2.6 per cent of all employees in Wales. A recentWCVA survey found that 49 per cent oforganisations felt that their situation woulddeteriorate over the next twelve months as aresult of the recession, and 87 organisationsreported that a total of 295 posts were ‘at risk’.Source: DWPHowever, the Work Programme will offer subcontractingopportunities to third sectororganisations in Wales. There are a number ofnew initiatives emerging that could add to theWelsh third sector’s capacity to deliver publicservices and make the role of smallorganisations in service delivery more important.
An example of this is when consortiums ofcharities, social enterprises and other thirdsector organisations work together to bid forlarge public sector contracts on behalf of civilsociety organisations. In Wales, this could beparticularly important for small and mediumsized organisations that want to bid forcontracts, but do not have the capacity; byworking in a consortium with other smallorganisations they are more likely to be able tocompete for, and deliver, large contracts.In 2010 the Welsh Governmentannounced the £13 billion CommunityEconomic Development Programme,which aims to encourage organisationsin south east Wales to become lessdependent on grants and betterequipped to tender for procurementcontracts.The Big Society ripple effectThere are some Big Society initiatives that coulddirectly benefit Welsh voluntary organisations.The Big Society Bank, which is due to launch thisyear, will make loans and provide investmentcapital for the UK voluntary sector. In England,money from private dormant bank accounts willbe put into the Big Society Bank for Englishvoluntary organisations, but in Wales thedormant accounts money is being used tosupport young people and tackle climatechange.UK banks are contributing £200 million offunding for the Big Society Bank, which will beavailable to voluntary organisations across theUK, including Wales.It remains to be seen how civil society in Waleswill respond to the Big Society, but it is likely thatthird sector organisations will have to changetheir approach to service provision, withdiminished resources, more service users andhigher expectations.
Article taken fromResearch Service publicationKey Issuesfor theFourth AssemblyThis document has been specially prepared forAssembly Members by the Research Service. It sets outsome of the key issues likely to matter to Membersduring the Fourth Assembly.Key Issues for the Fourth AssemblyFor more publications from the Research Service, see our pages on the Assembly website:www.assemblywales.org/bus-assembly-publications-research.htmResearch ServiceNational Assembly for WalesCardiff BayCF99 1NAEmail: Research.Service@wales.gov.ukTwitter: @NAWResearch