I just wondered if any you folk were engaged in service transfer into a consortium or other such co-operative entity?  It's something that seems to be emerging and there seems to be a twofold push:

  • Commissions want a "single conversation" and less politics!
  • VCS want more strategic fit and thus more influence, reach and resource and can better achieve that through collaboration

In one way it seems an obvious way to go for both “sides”,   but I can see real tensions.

Let’s imagine your average locality and its considering forming a VCS consortuim:

  • 20 Organisation, 20 discrete missions and maybe 200 trustees?
  • Of the 20, maybe 5 are from large national charities with huge costs and limited local decision making ability
  • Of the rest, maybe 5 have not staff at all!

I think that’s just a few of the potential challenges!  I’ve seen some examples of solutions:


But check this post as well! 


Also this which seems very locally orientated:


Oh and lets not forget this from the Charity Commission’s views:


Anyone out there with some views or experiences? (I’m about to be...)


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You've hit on  a real issue. Commissioners won't like the 'messiness' of being involved with lots of groups. If nothing else this massively complicates the whole contract monitoring process etc. And small groups won't welcome being 'gobbled up' by bigger ones either. So this could be a stand off. Depends who blinks first!

If consortia are clever they will push commissioners for more flexibility if the latter are desperately keen to 'outsource' locally. And commissioners will want to see evidence of collaboration between partners in order to do this. Are the VCS 'groups' - as you say they come in all sorts off shapes and sizes - willing to compromise to achieve their objective? If not the reality is that one or more will 'go it alone' in any case and then devil take the hindmost.


I don't think this is a new phenomenon. Though it's obviously much more evident now given the dire straight of public finances.



I guess this idea of consortia makes economic sense, and also sense in terms of the efficiency of the commissioning process.

I have an instinctive uneasiness about it though.  One of my biggest criticisms of third sector provision of social housing is that its become a bit monopolised by certain providers, who are getting larger and larger.  I know a consortium is different, and you may argue that by retaining a consortium structure you can have partners with a very local focus, but i'm still uneasy.

Part of my uneasiness comes from the fact that it may lead to a 'corporatisation'.  More staff and processes get centralised and further away from the end user/beneficiary. That said, these are tough times, and if the development consortia protect services may be its an acceptable trade off?

Hello Dave, this is an area of work that we considered as part of our work for the Local Services Initiative in Argyll in supporting Third Sector organisations who held existing Service Level Agreementsd for delivering waste related services.  The organisations had to find considerable savings as the Service Level Agreements had been reduced and we looked at the potential to make savings through some kind of collaborative venture.   

We found that each of the organisations had different objectives as well as different funding streams for other areas of work over and above the services delivered on behalf of the council.  We identified that whilst there was some scope for joining up areas of operations such as admin support and finance, the geographic constraints of operating across a large rural area, meant that these savings would be minimal and costs for supporting the collaborative venture would offset any savings made.

Where Third Sector organisations had most similarities there was scope to support each other but retain autonomy.  The organisations also worked collectively together prior to and throughout the negotiations with the Council, this built a greater understanding across the organisations and allowed for shared objectives and key issues to be highlighted collectively.

This also allowed the organisations to continue to have a local presense retaining their identity.

Interested to hear from examples where a more joined up consortium apporach has been acheived.

Hi Dave, Andrew, Tom, Ailsa

Just to say Dave thanks for kicking this one off. It's a real mind-bender. I thought that link to the victory consortium was really helpful including this paragraph in particular (regardingh the hub and spoke model):

The Victory Consortium has developed strong policies and procedures on Governance, Risk Management, Resource Allocation, and Anti-Bribery.  Its Memorandum and Articles of Association, and its Member’s Partnership Agreement were based on templates developed by a lawyer working in this field.  The Partnership Agreement has clauses covering Confidentiality of Information, and the requirements members should follow when they wish to bid in competition with Victory.  Directors/Trustees are also required to follow the consortium’s policies and procedures on conflicts of interest.  Victory discussed its intentions with local commissioners before opening for membership.  Finally, each member is required to demonstrate that its membership application has Board approval before being admitted into the Victory Consortium.

It's this sort of nitty-gritty attention to governance that is clearly going to be a make or break for any partnership and particular complex consortia. Yet it will reassure commissioners about the 'messiness'. Reflecting on what Ailsa has said, it seems to me that the steps from enabling local organisations to begin to explore shared values/objectives to the point where a coherent governance model that is able to respond clearly to tight deadlines... is very tough to pull off. I'm thinking of another example from Argyll and Bute where the Children and Young Families Services have been involved in a remarkably open conversation with the head of the service at the Council (brokered through a partnership between local social enterprise network, third sector and the council - ABLSI - that Carnegie is supporting), but to get a hub-spoke model working would realistically need a significant investment of time and skills both from council people and other stakeholders - with continuing support from ABLSI. 

This is a new area for me however and it may be that there are existing templates for this kind of work, including that shared in the post by Victory. Dave, am I right in inferring that you're about to be involved in a process like this?

In the meantime I'll 'share' this thread with a few others on fieryspirits to see if some other folk have been there before...



Guys - many thanks for your responses! Sorry its taken me so long to come back…up to my eyes at the mo!   All very useful stuff.   I am indeed involved in such, though it’s very early days and the "geography" issue from Ailsa does hit the mark for me. 

Having said that, has anyone seen this?  http://www.playengland.org.uk/our-work/free-time-consortium.aspx  That's national.  I have contacts there, so I'll do some asking...

I've been doing some digging myself and did have a chat with http://www.octopusnetwork.org.uk/ 

That is a very interesting model and Julie Parish (who leads it) is very willing to talk through their highs and lows....the set up has been in place 2009 and has a rather unique approach.  It seems like there are very clear governance arrangements BUT a huge amount of trust between the actors which makes it work.  There also seems to be a lot of utility in the arrangement. A case study from there might be really useful?  It picks up Tom's point about investment. Islington Council both triggered the consortium (with cuts) and supported it, then nearly sank it with "corporatisation".  It was a dialogue though.  The Council and the consortium did work together.  It was bouncy, but they’ve grown into a stronger relationship (picking up Andrews points)

Lastly, I was at a NESTA event last week and heard from the very marvellous Sam Hopley



He talked about a very different model of collaboration, using ideas around co-production and time banking.  It was potent stuff, and I left thinking combining some of that with more formal arrangements could be a potent mix for a commissioners, if it could be communicated ie "if you buy me, you also buy the collaboration of service users and partners which add real value”  Still thinking that through…


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