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February 22, 2017

Getting a slice of the public cake

When Derek Mackay MSP was Communities Minister he often argued that the myriad funding streams that support community action could make more impact if they were more joined up. His new job as Finance Minister should help him fulfil that ambition. In that role, he also has overall responsibility for the £10bn that Scottish Government spends annually on procuring goods and services. Getting better access to that budget has long been an ambition of the sector. A new joint project with Senscot and others aims to make the size of your organisation no barrier to realising that ambition.

Senscot etal

A joint proposal from Senscot, Social Firms Scotland, Scottish Community Alliance and Cooperative Development Scotland. To be funded as part of the Scottish Government’s Early Action Plan in support of the 10 year social enterprise strategy

A Consortia Building & Procurement Hub

We believe that a gap in the current support environment for enterprising third sector suppliers could be solved by introducing a well-resourced and dedicated Consortia Building & ProcurementSupport Hub – building on the activity currently delivered via Senscot/SFS’s Partnership and Procurement Coordinator role.

This proposal builds on the thinking of Senscot/SFS to support the development of consortia across the sector and is specifically designed to help the many hundreds of community based social enterprises across Scotland to access more of the investment currently being driven through the public procurement market.

Benefits and Examples of Consortia Approaches

The recent experience of CRNS in drawing together a consortium of 17 of its members, and successfully bidding to be accepted onto the Scotland Excel Procurement Framework (Reuse lot), has also prompted this proposal. Although CRNS succeeded in relation to this piece of work, it was hugely and disproportionately demanding in terms of the organisation’s internal resources and it is difficult to imagine other parts of the sector being able to easily replicate this achievement.

Another example of the benefits of collaboration is the Fife Employability Consortium (FEC) led by BRAG Enterprises – which is an excellent example of 8 organisations working together to deliver employability services in Fife. Driven by the local authority, the consortium development was supported by an external facilitator, and in April 2015, Fife ETC won a £1.1mn contract from Fife Council. The council recognise that the partners are delivering better outcomes, with increased efficiencies and more people further from the labour market accessing local employability services.

The consortium has supported 368 people into jobs against a target of 296. Prior to the consortium, only 29% of clients engaged from Fife's most deprived 20% SIMD areas, and in the pilot phase of the consortium, this increased to over 60%. A more efficient service for the funder who sees the consortia as very successful. Previously only 30% of employability services in Fife was provided by social enterprises, now that share has grown to 70%.

Following awareness and promotion of these 2 examples, SFS & Senscot are currently supporting early consortia discussions in the employability services field in Glasgow (30 organisations have expressed interest) as well as early discussions in West Lothian.

Current examples of successful consortia approaches include Ready for Business (a collaboration of third sector and private sector) which is delivering the Scottish Government’s ‘Developing Markets for Third Sector Provider’s Programme; and Just Enterprise which is delivering the Government’sbusiness support programme for enterprising third sector organisations. Both of these are third sector-led. These examples, however, are not typical and therefore this is part of the rationale for proposing the establishment of a Consortia Building and Procurement Hub primarily targeted at the social and community enterprise sector – the majority of which are small and locally based.Through our engagement with the European  SEN, Consorzio Sociale Light (Lombardy, Italy) has offered to act in a consultancy capacity in the event of this proposal being approved.

Components of the Consortia Building & Procurement Hub

It is envisaged that the Hub would have a number of key components relevant to tender support, drawing on existing resources and information and developing a higher visibility and access to support:

Technical/tender writing. The technical knowledge and hard skills required to tender for large contracts which is so lacking within small third sector organisations, and which gives the large outsourcing companies and national charities such an advantage, would need to be imported – potentially learning from the private sector.

Consortia building. A deep knowledge of the diversity of our sector and the skills and understanding of how to work across a range of different groups and communities towards thedevelopment of effective consortia. 

The Hub could sit within any one of the key intermediaries, however, the Hub services would beaccessible to any enterprising third sector organisation beyond our respective membership andnetworks. It would be managed by a cross-sector steering group. We see this proposal as not only tackling one of the key challenges for the sector in gaining better access to the public procurement opportunities, but also facilitating better use of the existing supporting infrastructure and enhancing cross-sector collaboration.