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'Do-gooders, pink or fluffy, social workers' need not apply? An exploration of the experiences of the third sector organisations in the European Social Fund and Work Programme

Richard Crisp, Ellie Roberts, Dave Simmonds


The third sector has become increasingly reliant on contract funding from government programmes in recent years. Concerns have been expressed about this growing 'marketization' (Bruce, 2011) of the sector but relatively little is known about the experiences of third sector organisations in public service delivery, particularly in large-scale programmes that use a 'prime contract' model. This paper addresses that gap by presenting evidence from two separate studies of third sector involvement in, respectively, the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Work Programme. It argues that the sector as whole, and particularly smaller providers, often find themselves 'squeezed out' at the bidding phase. Despite this, evidence from the ESF Programme shows successful subcontractors are largely positive about experiences of delivery and relationships with prime contractors, although there are concerns about excessive bureaucracy and inflexible contracts. The research also finds that the focus of large-scale Programmes on hard outcomes can encourage cherry-picking and favour third sector organisations with a more 'commercial' outlook. It concludes that more could be done to promote third sector involvement in public service delivery but cautions that participating organisations may be forced to compromise social objectives.


DOI 10.3351/ppp.0005.0002.0004