The Scottish Government last week announced the award of 2 contracts to create 10 new Public Social Partnerships ("PSPs") - a move that all Scottish third sector organisations will no doubt be following with interest. The PSP model has been 'imported' from Italy, where it is used to involve more localised 'third-sector' organisations in the delivery of public services. The PSP allows contracting authorities, to date mainly local councils, to get together with third sector organisations and develop new initiatives for the delivery of services to benefit local communities.

Over the last few years, there have been initiatives to increase involvement of third sector organisations in public sector delivery, in particular through promotion of social, environmental and small and medium enterprise (SME) initiatives in procurement. However some third sector organisations may remain reluctant to engage in public sector delivery through procurement on the basis that successful engagement can require compromising on the social benefits being delivered in order to be successful on price.

So what is involved in a PSP? In brief, there will be three main stages to developing the 10 new PSPs announced:

  • Stage 1: third sector organisations and the public sector will get together to design a new service;
  • Stage 2: a consortia of third sector organisations will combine in a short-term pilot of the service in order to further develop it; and
  • Stage 3: once developed, the service will be put out to tender.

The involvement of the third sector in the design of each service provides an important opportunity to third sector organisations to maximise the delivery of social benefits under the service by designing a service to be assessed on the quality of its social output. Separately, involvement in PSPs allows third sector organisations to get to know and understand how they can get involved in public sector service delivery. Care requires to be taken to ensure that the set up and operation of each PSP complies with legal requirements, in particular with the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006. Forth Sector and PriceWaterhouseCoopers have been awarded the contracts to assist the Scottish Government in developing the new PSPs.

The Scottish Government's latest initiative follows pioneering work previously carried out by Social Economy Scotland and a number of local councils, third sector organisations and agencies in piloting PSPs. The successful pilot PSPs included Reaching Older Adults in Renfrewshire (ROAR), delivering befriending, social and transport services to older people in Renfrewshire and Homereach, delivering furniture related recycling services to benefit the vulnerable and homeless in North Lanarkshire. The success of the Homereach PSP is reflected in at least one other Council having since decided to pursue setting up a similar PSP.