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Working in the voluntary sector in an era of public sector austerity

Cunningham, Ian and James, Phil (2010) Working in the voluntary sector in an era of public sector austerity. In: 2010 ISBE Conference Proceedings. Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, London. ISBN 9781900862219

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Increasingly the study of voluntary sector - state relations has adopted the notion of them operating within a ‘market bureaucracy’(Considine, 1996). That is in a context where competition is placed at the centre of relations between purchasers and providers of services, and contracts between them are increasingly arms length, based on price and marked by a lack of promise of future business and the imposition of highly detailed contractual specifications and related monitoring arrangements. It has been noted that the employment consequences of such purchaser/provider relationships cannot be straightforwardly predicted as a result of the mediating role played by institutional factors, the degree of resource dependency they encompass, and the activities and influence of boundary spanners (Marchington et al, 2005). In line with this, while evidence suggests that the first two periods of New Labour rule saw a steady degeneration in pay and conditions and rising work intensification in some voluntary organisations, it also indicates that in others this had not been the case (Cunningham, 2008). This paper utilises data from a longitudinal study of twenty four voluntary organisations to explore how far this picture of variability in the employment consequences of voluntary sector - state relations remains valid, or whether even large mainstream voluntary organisations are now being forced into a ‘race to the bottom’ over terms and conditions of employment.