Is Competition bad?

This is a response to a great blog on the Community Matters Yorkshire page. You can read it here. The blog poses some questions about competition in our sector, both around the role of different support organisations (like CCVS) but also around to the wider sector as well.

The national body that supports organisations like CCVS is called NAVCA and they are undergoing a major strategic review and this is what has prompted these blogs. CCVS was one of the many organisations that the new chair of NAVCA met with before he (unfortunately) retired. At this meeting I spoke about the importance of support organisations working together and not bidding or working in a way that might put others out of business. This may seem odd as the CEO of an organisation that has taken over the work of one very small CVS and has also bid against another to work across Cambridgeshire. That said neither of these things happened on my watch, but that does not mean I would not have made the same choices.

What concerns me is that we are seeing increasing instances of work that was grant funded being put out to commissioning and procurement. We are also seeing cuts to the funding that many support organisations receive from local government and health providers. The days of a CCVS type organisation working in every district are long gone, we now see a broad church of organisations working in different areas and providing very different services. Some are large and some are small. Some provide direct services and projects some don’t. Some are well funded some are not.

I wanted NAVCA membership to have a clause that one support organisation from outside an area would not bid against an existing organisation to deliver core CVS services. I want us to be working together to deliver the best services to the sector not competing against one another. I still want this.

That said the Community Matters blog does make some good points. I think that there are instances where there will be competition, this could be because it is a new service, or it could be because the existing service is not producing the impact it should be. I think that the first conversation should be about collaboration, but if this fails there will be, and should be, a more competitive process.

So is this possible or am I being unrealistic? I think that a more collaborative approach is possible, I think we can be more open and I think we can embrace politeness. This means being open about plans to move into other areas or provide new services in an area you haven’t worked in before. This applies to local organisations growing and moving to new areas, but also to national organisations looking to deliver locally. So if you are a national support organisation delivering locally then talk to the local support organisation to see how you can add value to local groups. If a new opportunity is tendered then start by talking with other providers about how you can submit joint applications. I also think that if collaboration is to happen you have to be open and honest, so no hidden agendas.

Too often we are as worried about collaboration as we are of competition, we all fight for our organisation and we feel threatened by new kids on the block with new ideas. I don’t think that I am immune to these fears, but I have found that where we do collaborate we have better impact and I have faced and overcome (mostly) those fears.

Finally there is a nod to the commissioners. It is important that things like local knowledge, social value, the local economy etc. are taken into account when dealing with our sector. These are hard to put a monetary value on but they do make a great difference to those receiving a service. There have been too many examples of national organisations winning local work only to see the quality of service go down because it was all about outputs and money.

I don’t think any charity has the ‘god given’ right to be a local provider just because they always have been. In the end it is about those receiving the service, they need the best whether they are a group looking for funding support or an individual looking for support. I do think that sometimes smaller local organisations struggle to compete against bigger organisations, and this should not be the reason they fail.

Competition can drive improvements and help develop new services, but so can collaboration. Maybe we should be calling for collaborative tendering and not competitive tendering. We should all be thinking collaboration first, competition second.

Written by Mark Freeman, CEO of CCVS. Follow him at @skillsmark on Twitter or on LinkedIn

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