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Application process for contracts ‘hits small charities’

06 January 2017

ALEXANDRA SMART/TRUSSELL TRUST

SMALL charities are failing to secure government and council contracts, owing to “absurd and irrelevant” demands in the application process, a study of 120 contract tenders sug­gests. The study, Commissioning in Crisis, by the Lloyds Bank Foundation, says that the move towards hiring larger firms has caused a reduction of up to 44 per cent in small- and medium-sized charities’ income.

A combination of “excessive” amounts of detail requested in applications, “unrealistic” timescales for putting applications together, and a “lack of communication” from contract commissioners, who make decisions about which charity wins a contract, are all making it difficult for charities to secure contracts.

More than half of the charities surveyed for the report said that they were prevented from bidding, or were unsuccessful in their bid, for con­tracts, owing to red tape.

In one example from the report, a charity that applied for a mental-health-support contract was required to give evidence on its policy on “hard-hat areas”. The application procedure was the same as it would be for obtaining building contracts.

Another example described how a contract worth £350,000 a year re­­quired the charity to fill in an “excessively complex” 44 questions that required 500- to 2000-word answers.

The survey also shows that smaller charities have to work out of hours in order to compete for contracts. One respondent said that they were pitted against “large organisations, with teams of professional bid-writers”, making it difficult for them to fulfil their day jobs while putting together an application.

The founder of Cedar UK and the Coventry foodbank, Gavin Kibble, said: “If you are a small charity look­ing to take on a local-government contract, you will find that you will be stretched if you are not in a part­nership. You need a pool of people who can pick up contracts, whether they come from the city council or national govern­ment.”

The founder of Oasis UK, the Revd Steven Chalke, said that, while working in partnership was good for charities, the diversity of church communities had huge potential for improving their charity outreach.

”The wonderful thing for every church is that it has lots of people who are working in the sector that it wants to talk to,” he said. “People sit in the church and sing hymns together, [but] they just don’t know one another and one another’s net­works.”

The chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation, Paul Streets, said that charities were increasingly being forced to undergo “lengthy, convoluted, and expensive processes” to secure funding, and that they were “fighting tooth and nail so their vital support can be ‘com­missioned’”.

Commissioners were also accused of a “lack of communication”, which has meant that charities do not know what the commissioners are looking for in successful applications. Ap­­plying for a contract was said to be “like playing ‘Guess What’s in the Commissioners’ Heads’”, owing to constant changes in application specifications.

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