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Community groups to be helped to bid for council services

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The government has confirmed that it will support community groups bid to run council services.

The Cabinet Office’s ‘open public services’ update, published last week, confirmed the department was seeking a ‘delivery body’ to support groups to use the ‘community right to challenge’ under which voluntary and community groups, parish councils and council staff can challenge local authorities to take over the running of local public services.

Such a challenge will prompt a full tendering process, prompting fears that large private firms will end up being the true beneficiaries of the new policy.

Details of the specifications for the delivery body released by the Cabinet Office have now confirmed that the successful bidders will be required to help community groups compete against private firms in the tendering process.

“There will be support to be able to effectively use the community right to challenge and compete in procurement exercises/deliver contracts as a result of using the right,” a Cabinet Office spokesman said.

The specification for the delivery body will be a three-year programme to March 2015 to directly support relevant bodies to bid for and run relevant council services.

The delivery body will be “required to offer an advisory service, administer a grants programme and provide ongoing support to recipients”.

Third Sector magazine reported that the contract would be worth around £14m and that a partnership between social enterprise investors the Social Investment Business, lobbying group Acevo and community group body Locality has bid for it.

At a private meeting with Conservative councillors last month, communities secretary Eric Pickles said he would come down hard on private firms that sought to abuse the new right – threatening fresh legislation if necessary. Concerns had been raised that contractors might offer inducements to community groups or sponsor bogus groups in order to challenge council provision of services and prompt a full tender.

One senior councillor present at the meeting said: “Eric was quite clear that he would change the legislation if needs be to stop this happening, though he felt the new act had enough safeguards.

“He told councils to be vigilant for evidence of firms doing this, and to let him know of any examples.”

Michael Mousdale, a partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, said at the time that community groups could inadvertently act as “Trojan horses” for private firms.

“If the right to challenge is successful the council has to run a full procurement exercise, in which the community group might well be at a disadvantage against a private bidder through lacking finance, a track record and skills,” he said.

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