Ever since the mid-1980s, marked by the introduction of the first EU Procurement Directives, successive UK governments have increasingly procured public services through competitive tendering. Government policy and the resulting business operating environment since then has been increasingly characterised by a move away from supporting the VCSE sector through grant aid and service level agreements towards the procurement of ‘their’ services via competitive tendering. Additionally, to gain more ‘value for money,’ commissioners are frequently pooling their budgets, forming buying consortia, and putting out to tender larger and more complex public service contracts. Many of these are inaccessible to smaller to medium sized organisations due to their size. The formation of a VCSE consortium was therefore a rational and strategic reaction to this policy.
Commsortia was established as a formal consortium. In other words, it is a joint venture established as a separate legal entity with community based VCSE provider organisations taking up joint control and membership of the body.
Commsortia operates with a ‘hub and spokes’ structure. The ‘hub’ company, Commsortia provides the central infrastructure of governance and staff resource that acts as the executive engine for the consortium. Its role is to identify opportunities to tender, lead on the co-development and negotiation of tenders, and then sub-let and coordinate the delivery of contracted services, once primary contracts have been won. The ‘spokes’ are the various individual member service provider organisations whose role is to jointly support the hub in its governance and in its business activities as well as deliver quality services directly to the public under sub contract to the hub .