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CHARITIES GET TOUGH OVER LOCAL AUTHORITY CONTRACTS

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Voluntary groups which depend for income on contracts with local authority social services departments are beginnin...
Voluntary groups which depend for income on contracts with local authority social services departments are beginning to say they will not put up with a council strategy of divide and rule, reports The Guardian (Society, p31).

The Disabilities Trust recently went as far as threatening legal action against Surrey CC when negotiations on its contract broke down. Things turned sour when the authority refused to agree an increase in fees in line with inflation.

The story will have a familiar ring for disability charities which seen their funding squeezed and responsibility for the consequences batted back and forth between local authorities and the government.

By sticking its head above the parapet, the Disabilities Trust is hoping to encourage other charities to take a tough stand. It has launched the Campaign for Fair Contracts, a legal initiative against what the charity sees as the re-writing of contracts without regard for mutuality or two-way negotiation.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has recently issued guidance on contracts with public authorities. The guidance, Mutual Obligations, calls for greater transparency and consistency in contracting.

Authorities could save themselves a lot of effort by standardising agreements - the NCVO found one charity which contracted with 20 different authorities and had to negotiate 20 different agreements - each with its own terms and conditions.

Mary Rutherford, contracts officer at Age Concern, advised on the NCVO's guidance. She believes some local authorities could learn from others which have more experience of contracting and have established relationships of trust with charity contractors.

'It's the late arrivals - local authorities who previously didn't contract and some new authorities - who have come in more bullish,' she says.

'In some case the contracts are borrowed from compulsory competitive tendering. But different conditions apply to day care from gathering rubbish.'

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