Great Britain

How government rigs system in favour of big business over local charities – Kenny MacAskill

Who would you prefer to hold your hand in old age: a local charity or a multinational corporation? (Picture: John Devlin)
Who would you prefer to hold your hand in old age: a local charity or a multinational corporation? (Picture: John Devlin)

Tendering for contracts to provide services – sometimes even free ones – has become a bureaucratic nightmare, writes Kenny MacAskill

I know positive changes have been made in government tendering and procurement. Best values have been broadened out from Thatcherism’s lowest price. It’s also complicated, and rule bound. But it almost seems to have become an industry and further progress can surely be made.

Last week I was at a board meeting of a small local charity providing care for the elderly in a deprived part of Edinburgh.

The tendering process for a contract to provide services was positively encyclopaedic, and driving the excellent manager to despair.

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She advised how she’d sought to take some professional advice from a firm that specialises in such documentation. A five-figure sum was quoted.

Unbelievable! It’s almost as if the process is geared towards ensuring that Caring Inc from Denver or whoever wins the contract, not a local social enterprise.

It put me in mind of a criminal justice charity which had to tender for a service they provided, driving families to prisons.

They objected as they didn’t charge and said no commercial company would be interested. Despite that dose of common sense, they were forced to tender for a contract that only they bid for. An utter absurdity.

Social enterprises are universally lauded, yet we put a ball and chain around their ankles.

If football managers can get “rolling contracts” why not them? Surely a lighter touch can prevail for smaller community services, where it’s clear their skills lie in delivering the service, not winning the contract.

Otherwise big businesses’ bureaucracy will prevail.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian