Public service delivery

Government policies seek to expand VCS involvement in public service delivery. The idea is that services will be transformed as providers compete for contracts and users choose which services they prefer. The government hopes to open up all public services in this way, with the exception of the judiciary and national security services. There is growing recognition of the role VCS organisations have in transforming public services, (see the Big Society Agenda) but the reforms will also give for-profit providers the chance to bid for all contracts. In light of constrained public spending the future level of income from government is uncertain - in the short term funding is likely to fall, but in the longer term contracts for public service delivery may lead to increased funding of the voluntary sector.

What are the implications?

  • The opening up of markets may lead to a growing interest in the VCS as innovators and transformers of public services.

  • The VCS will also face greater competition for contracts from the private sector.

  • Blurring boundaries between sectors as VCOs and businesses deliver more services traditionally delivered by the State.

  • This may create an increased demand for VCOs to provide information about themselves.

  • Increased competition for available funds for VCOs may increase collaborative working.

  • Increased pressure to demonstrate that services are efficient and provide value for money by government, particularly in a period of reduced spending on public services.

  • An ever greater focus on contracts rather than grants (see procurement practice).

  • Polarisation of the VCS as larger VCOs are often better placed to bid for contracts.

Moving forward

An increased role in public service delivery offers many opportunities for the VCS but also comes with risks such as: mission drift; loss of public trust; loss of independence; and becoming more like the public sector organisations that traditionally delivered a service.

  • Is public service delivery the best option for your organisation? Are funder imposed outputs and outcomes compatible with your mission and constitution?

  • What measures do you need to take to ensure accountability and easy access to information by the public?

  • Will a service delivery contract account for a disproportionate amount of your income? What steps can you take to ensure a sustainable mix of funding?

  • Do your staff have all the necessary skills to take on public service delivery such as managing contracts? Is training available to fill skills gaps?

The VCS has a good reputation for innovation and creative thinking. It is important that public services are not simply transferred to VCOs, but that they are able to use their innovative skills and relationships with communities to transform services.

  • How can you identify need amongst communities to design and influence public services?

  • Can you use partnership arrangements at a local level to communicate needs and influence public services?

  • How can you ensure that your organisation's ability to innovate continues to flourish if it becomes a public service provider?

As competition for public service contracts increases, it will be important to distinguish your organisation from its competitors. It will also be important to identify ways in which you can collaborate with other organisations.

  • How can you demonstrate the unique value you would add to a service?

  • Is it possible to expand your work to include other services?

  • Delivering value for money is important, but do you recognise the true costs of projects to your organisation? If you decide to bypass full cost recovery, is this sustainable and beneficial to your organisation in the long term?

  • Are there other organisations with different areas of expertise that your organisation could work with to complement your services?

Want to know more?

The State and the Voluntary Sector: recent trends in government funding and public service delivery

Published by: NCVO 

Date: 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? A report analysing the funding relationship between the statutory sector and VCS.

How useful is this? The guide contains clear, simple statistics on government funding and public service delivery by the voluntary sector for use in presentations or funding bids. It also contains an analysis of 16 different themes, including grants and contracts, social enterprise, and expenditure by central government departments as well as easy-to-read charts and tables showing trends over time.

Growing the Big Society

Published by: IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research

Date: June 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A report discussing the potential benefits and challenges of the Big Society.

How useful is this? This report explores the coalition government's notion of the Big Society, describing its potential benefits and difficulties. It begins with a policy and literature review then goes on to describe case studies and present the results of an online survey. It also gives the views of support providers and local authorities. Overall, the tone is positive but sufficiently neutral to provide a good overview of the Big Society.

Transforming public services

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2006

Format: PDF

What is it? This 15 page document sets out the VCS policy response to the government drive of increased VCS public service delivery.

How useful is this? Although a policy position, this briefing gives a good summary of the VCS policy perspective on its recent increased role in public service delivery. It also discusses some of the risks and opportunities associated with this role for VCOs and how they can think strategically to ensure that any future public service delivery is appropriate to their organisation.

The Future of Services to the Public

Published by: CIPFA - the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy

Date: 2007

Format: PDF

What is it? A document exploring possible scenarios for public service provision, with a focus on how public services will be funded and delivered in the period 2010 to 2030.

How useful is this? Despite being published before the 2010 election and before the recession the report looks at the long term pressures facing public services, so remains relevant. The starting point for the study was the assertion that "By 2030 services to the public will certainly not all be delivered by public sector workers or paid for out of the public purse" and it goes on to discuss the implications of changes to the relative income and wealth of the UK compared to emerging economies, and demographic changes such as an ageing population and the burdens this will place on the public finances.


Last updated at 15:32 Wed 30/Mar/11.

Recent comments

Megan 's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Last week we were up in Doncaster with 12 chief officers and chairs of local infrastructure organisation. One of the discussions revolved around the implications and strategic actions that could flow from consideration of this driver (and the related drivers of increasing role of the sector in service delivery, procurement practice and polarisation of the sector.

Read the participants’ ideas about implications and potential actions.

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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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