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The Civil Effect: Bringing efficiency, innovation and community capability to our framework of public services commissioning

Publication Details

ResPublica’s report The Civil Effect warns that the development of David Cameron’s Big Society will fail unless urgent action is taken to better support civil society in our public services.

The report’s author and Deputy Director of ResPublica, Asheem Singh says that the development of an expanded civil society along the lines mapped out by David Cameron is being hampered by burdensome bureaucracy and over complicated commissioning processes.

And Mr Singh unveils a raft of new measures aimed at boosting civil society, which it defines as co-operatives, social enterprises, charities and community entrepreneurs and which he believes will create a level playing field between the public sector and civil society.

The report, The Civil Effect: Bringing efficiency, innovation and community capability to our framework of public services commissioning says despite some commentators painting the sector as weak and ineffective, civil society contributed around £147 billion to the UK economy in 2007/8 and delivers nearly £33 billion of services to the NHS annually.

Mr Singh adds that the Government is right to set out an ambitious programme to use the expertise and dedication of civil society to try and protect, or even improve services in the face of budget cuts, but the sector is facing a financial crisis, because it is viewed by many commissioners as a “Cinderella service”.

The report recommends that the Government should agree a new compact with the sector and commissioners to meet the challenges of the toughest spending round in a generation, if they are serious about meeting the needs of our “service hungry nation”.

And it says that the Government should encourage the development of consortia of civil society organisations, which would pool expertise, share the cost of bidding and help them to access public money.

It advocates the establishment of a network of community commissioning hubs to act as incubators of ideas, to help groups form consortia and to give commissioners a clearer understanding of the capacity of the organisations in their area to deliver services.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • The setting up of a network of highly localised co-commissioning hubs. The hubs would be focussed on civil society organisations, which would use the resources of the hub as a base to form consortia and bid for services.
  • A Minimum Standards Framework that gives autonomy to commissioners and users to manage and measure their own services. This would act as the Government’s safety net, ensuring a minimum standard, but allowing much greater flexibility for priorities to be set locally.
  • A Local Skills Exchange using an open source web portal. This would enable commissioners and service users to identify local opportunities, which co-commissioning hubs, or local councils could then customise.
  • A focus on commissioning ‘quick-wins’ when it comes to next-generation consortia.
  • The creation of a Big Society Bank to act as a short term financier of social enterprises aimed at developing a stronger civil society.
  • Further work on building the capacity of Civil Society to feed into the upcoming white paper.
  • The introduction of levy to help fund start activities and smaller organisations.
  • Local prize funds similar the Big Green Challenge Fund to encourage innovation and co-operation.
  • Asheem Singh

    Asheem Singh was deputy director of ResPublica and the Head of ResPublica’s Civil Society and Social Innovation Unit from December 2009-April 2011. Originally from the North East of England, he was the David Blank scholar in Law at St Catherine’s...

    Asheem Singh