Public Services Hub

Public sector contracts: resources for charities and social enterprises

On this page you’ll find resources designed to support social enterprises and charities -otherwise known as voluntary community and social enterprises (VCSEs)- compete alongside other organisations for public sector contracts as well as the latest news from the ongoing VCSE Contract Readiness Programme

Upcoming events on the Contract Readiness Programme

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funds the VCSE Contract Readiness programme. DCMS has worked with a consortium led by School for Social Entrepreneurs partnering with Social Enterprise UK and Voice4Change England to design and deliver a programme that will enable VCSEs to compete alongside other organisations for public sector contracts. 

Find out more about the programme here

Further support from government on applying for contracts

VCSEs – A guide to working with government – The VCSE Crown Representative, Claire Dove CBE commissioned this  guide from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (which holds responsibility for the VCSE sector in government) and Cabinet Office. It sets out  how social enterprises and charities can best work with government.

It goes through the best ways for VCSEs to approach working with public sector commissioners from steps such as registering to becoming an approved supplier to how to best engage early with commissioners. It contains top tips for tendering and details what public sector buyers are looking for.

Getting ready for the new Procurement Bill: official learning and development offer -The Procurement Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and will introduce significant changes to the way public sector organisations buy goods and services. The Bill will help open up public procurement to a broader supplier base including VCSE organisations.  The new regime will go live in 2024.

To prepare organisations for the changes the legislation will bring the Cabinet Office will offer a comprehensive learning and development programme to help organisations better understand the changes. There will be lots of published guidance and  free ‘knowledge drop’ sessions to provide an overview of the forthcoming changes, with tailored versions aimed at VCSEs who supply public sector organisations (or aspire to do so).  Procurement teams in contracting authorities will also be offered e-learning and longer more in-depth courses.

Finding Opportunities

Contracts Finder – This is government’s single online portal on which contracts valued above £10,000 in central government and above £25,000 in the rest of the non-devolved public sector are listed. It’s free to use to find opportunities. You don’t have to register but if you do you can set up an account to have new opportunities that suit your organisation emailed to you regularly.

Join Frameworks – Framework Agreements are ‘umbrella’ arrangements allowing multiple suppliers to be listed as potentially being able to work on a specific contract. They are agreed by a lead buyer with one or more suppliers. Once part of a Framework Agreement the lead buyer and other pre-advertised organisations can purchase goods and services from your organisation. More information is in the VCSE guide listed above.

Government Dynamic Purchasing System – signing to the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) is similar to an electronic Framework Agreement but one which allows new suppliers to join at any time. They however have their own set of requirements. More information can be found in the VCSE guide listed above.

Getting contract ready

A key part of being able to win public sector contracts is to make sure your organisation is contract ready. Here are a few resources to help apply from support courses and webinars to publications.

SSE Programmes

The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) run a series of programmes and courses to support social enterprises grow and develop. These include:

Social Business Modelling and Scaling – This workshop covers a broad range of integrated topics that are instrumental in creating and expanding a successful social business model.

Winning Grants from Trusts and Foundations – This course will equip organisations with the tools needed to secure more funding from trusts and foundations, showing you how to identify valuable funder prospects, develop a more compelling case for support, write more impactful applications and build strong long-term relationships with funders

Measuring Social Impact – This three-day course is full of the information you need to measure your impact successfully.

Negotiating Skills and Pricing – This practical course will improve confidence and self awareness around setting prices and will help you to plan effectively for more formal negotiations to ensure a win-win outcome.

Finding New Customers and Making More Sales – This one-day workshop will provide you with all the tools, techniques and help you will need to make finding new customers as straightforward as possible.

Bid Writing Support

Lime Green Consulting – Lime Green Consulting are a fundraising and strategy consultancy for UK charities and social enterprises. They offer bid-writing support and review applications. They also run training programmes in partnership with organisations like the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

Key things to have in place to apply for a bid

When applying for a public sector contract, VCSEs need to ensure that they have a few things in place before applying. These include:

  • insurance policy
  • modern slavery policy
  • cybersecurity certificates

Access to funding

Access to appropriate funding is vitally important for VCSEs to grow and develop. Here are some places to go to find finance from repayable social investment to grant funding.

Find a Grant – Find a grant is a pilot service that allows organisations to both search for government grants and find out if they are eligable for support. 

Access – The Foundation for Social Investment – Access’s mission is to make sure that social enterprises and charities can access the finance they need to sustain or grow their impact. As a social investment wholesaler, Access funds a series programmes designed to help social enterprises and charities – from blended finance (grants and loans) to investment readiness programmes 

The National Lottery Community Fund – The National Lottery raises money for good causes, supporting charities, community groups and social enterprises access grant funding. In 2021/22 it awarded over £579 million to these organisations. Current live funds can be found here

Good Finance – The Good Finance website is designed to help social enterprises and charities navigate the world of social investment. It contains resources to help you find out if repayable finance is for you, a fund mapper, case studies and a pre-investment support page for organisations that are not yet investment ready.

Funders Online – A database of over 8,000 sources of grant funding. Organisations need to pay a subscription to access the resources

UnLtd – UnLtd is the foundation for social entrepreneurs. They run a series of awards offering funding for smaller social enterprises and also provide social investment (repayable finance) through the Growth Impact Fund.

Get your organisation noticed

With social value being a mandated part of central government contracts and all public sector bodies having to consider social value in commissioning as well as an increased focus on ESG amongst corporates – organisations from across the public and private sector are looking for VCSEs they can partner with. Here’s some ways on getting your organisation noticed.

Social Enterprise Directory – All Social Enterprise UK members are featured on SEUK’s Social Enterprise Directory which is used by organisations looking to find social enterprise suppliers. If you are a social enterprise and not a member of SEUK you can find out more about membership here.

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