Commissioning. It’s a word that has been bandied about the charity sector a lot over the last year, along with other jargony phrases like prime contractor, subcontracting, Payment by Results and personal budgets. Since the government published its open public services white paper last summer, the commissioning landscape has seen many changes, and charities’ role in public service delivery has come up for a lot of discussion.

Initially hailed as the sugar to sweeten the bitter pill of funding cuts, charities were promised the chance to bid alongside private companies for public service contracts to make up some of the funding shortfall. More recently, there have been mumblings in the sector about how changes to the way local and national government commission charities are heaping insult on top of the injury of government funding cuts.

But what is really going on? What are charities’ actual experiences of these changes? Its very difficult to know how they are actually manifesting themselves in the day-to-day running of the UK’s charities. Are they thriving or flailing?

We want to find out, which is why today at NPC we’re launching a survey of the top 750 charities that also receive earned income. We hope it will help us get at some solid data behind the public hand-wringing.

But we also want to probe for some detail as to the real cause of problems charities are facing: is it contracts that are the trouble, or the behaviour of commissioners? Do charities have the right skills needed to manage and bid for these large contracts? And indeed is there any optimism amongst the public gloom?

We’ll be writing up the results (strictly anonymously of course) in a report which will be published later this year, which we hope will provide a good evidence base for future discussions with funders, commissioners and charities. We want to make sure charities’ answers help shape the debate on commissioning, and inform thinking about what needs to happen next.

So look out for it in your inboxes today. It will only take 15 minutes to complete, but your response will influence the outcome of the survey, and what NPC will be saying to funders and policy-makers. We’ve tried to send it to the most relevant people in charities, but if you get it and you aren’t the right person, please pass it to whoever can help—and make sure your charity gets its voice heard on commissioning.

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