Friday, December 15, 2006

An apology to The Guardian - the 3rd Sector report

I should apologise. The day after my last post The Guardian ran an article in its Society section: "Too much faith in third sector fizz". So the report on Partnership in Public Services: an action plan for third sector involvement was not in the end so ignored by the mainstream media.

But the Society Guardian editor Patrick Butler did try to savage the Third Sector Action Plan.

For example, he commented:

Take the plan's intriguing idea that the third sector should not merely provide services but help design them too - this from a government supposedly in ideological thrall to the purchaser-provider split. Imagine the uproar if ministers declared that private providers - Capita or Group 4 Securicor, say - should help set the terms of the service they intend to provide.

But the overwhelming majority of not-for-profits are nowhere near as big and powerful as Capita and Group 4. Moreover, their motivations are somewhat different being not-for-profits.

He went on:

But that's not all. The plan also envisages a stronger input into public services by user-led organisations. In theory, this allows the possibility that the same charity might help design a service, run the service contract, monitor service quality through its user groups, and (through its campaigning arm) attack the local authority that let the contract.

I don't think that is likely. But if it was, I am sure that the public sector is (generally) sufficiently conscious of probity and conflicts of interest to preclude that.

On much firmer ground he argues:

The plan argues that such close engagement between users and providers and commissioners can be positive, in the spirit of "co-production". This is true. But it also requires deft management skills, and even supporters of the third sector admit to serious concerns about its leadership capacity and the relatively underdeveloped nature of its governance and accountability arrangements.

The Action Plan does talk about training people in both public sector procurers and third sector clients. Arguably more should be in the Action Plan on the issue of governance and management in the third sector. Many of us have horror stories we know of where the third sector has gone wrong. (Of course the government has done work on this - for example, setting up the Governance Hub.)

Hopefully the Guardian will give the third sector a right of reply.

No comments: