SPOCS' are directing funding to small charities – an essential guide to SPOCS

Jun 29, 2017

This item first appeared in The Guardian.


Times are tough for small charities. Austerity is largely responsible, but adecline in grant funding and poor commissioning practices (particularly the trend towards bigger and bigger contracts) have contributed. Funding is now falling far faster for small charities than big ones.

This isn’t just bad news for small charities themselves. There is a growing body ofevidence that smaller, personalised services produce better outcomes, save money and are extremely popular with service users.

The problem has become so bad that the last charities minister, Rob Wilson, announced a public services programme to tackle the issue. It remains to be seen whether his replacement, Tracey Crouch, will maintain the initiative.

In the absence of political support, we’re coming up with a solution. Around the country, in places as varied as Hackney, Rotherham and Northampton, charities are setting up their own single point of contact (Spoc) commissioning models. These are reinvigorating local services by channelling vital funding into smaller local charities and voluntary groups.

A Spoc is a single organisation that allows a commissioner to connect with a broad range of smaller local charities. The commissioners can still use one single large contract, but the Spoc breaks this down so that smaller charities can be paid – ideally with a grant – to deliver services. It’s more flexible than a consortium. The Spoc takes on the contract management, monitoring and administration, leaving commissioners to focus on outcomes and charities to focus on what they do best.

SPOCs remove the competition and rivalry created by most procurement processes, replacing it with cooperation

The Spoc is not in competition with local charities to deliver services, which allows it to be an honest broker and build trust with commissioners and communities.

Everywhere this model is in operation, it is a success. In South Yorkshire, for example, Voluntary Action Rotherham act as a Spoc, allowing around 20 smaller charities to provide services local people need. It is also the model that the Big Lottery Fund is using for its multi-million pound Fulfilling Lives programmes.

A lot of its success comes from removing much of the competition and rivalry created by most procurement processes, and replacing it with cooperation.Charities are encouraged to work together to share intelligence and ideas. Instead of a single charity pretending to have all the answers to everyone’s problems, the Spoc model encourages charities to provide different elements of the support an individual may need, according to their own expertise. They can do this safe in the knowledge that they are not jeopardising their prospects of getting future funding by giving away valuable intelligence.

Policymakers have been striving for years to find a way to support smaller charities and build community resilience. The sector has quietly got on and found a solution. Now it’s time for charities and commissioners to work together to adopt this tried and trusted approach.

Neil Cleeveley is chief executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action. NAVCA’s report on improving commissioning through Spocs is available here.

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