3SC’s Merlin Assessment – Key Strengths



In November 2020, 3SC was assessed for the first time against the Merlin standard. The assessment outcome was ‘Excellent’ recognising the sustainable excellence of our structured approach to supply chain management and positive partnership working with our delivery partners. Gaining Merlin accreditation has helped us to show the strengths of our approach to contract management and enabled us to gain a clear understanding of where we can improve even further. We thought we would share some of our strengths and delivery partner feedback identified by our assessment.


3SC’s values shape the culture and character of our organisation. We rely on our staff to display our values in their day-to-day work with delivery partners. This could be seen in the positive responses our delivery partners gave to the Merlin assessors such as:


  • “They’re genuinely interested in developing and supporting third sector organisations.”
  • “We’ve received a lot of support and guidance around action planning and how to evidence the work we do with customers.”


3SC’s contract acquisition and management encompasses several stages including:


  • Expression of interest (EOI).
  • Delivery profiles and finances.
  • Due diligence.
  • Contract management.
  • Development of delivery partners.
  • Quality assurance.
  • Review and close.


For the initial EOI stage our Merlin assessment recognised the approach taken by 3SC focused on using SMEs (Small, Medium, Enterprises) primarily, but not exclusively, VCSE organisations.  Delivery partners confirmed that EOI was straightforward and less time consuming than many other Primes Many of them would not get the chance to work on the programmes 3SC deliver unless they partnered with us as the contracts are too large financially or they would not pass other bidding criteria.  Our delivery partners told Merlin assessors:


  • “I’m a self-employed person and wouldn’t normally be able to work on Government funded contracts like this.”
  • “We’re a small training provider, and this is our first chance to work on such a contract.”


It is important that our delivery partners understand from the outset the volume, funding/finance and performance expectations of the contract prior to contract award. These are also clearly documented in our Operations Manuals.  Delivery partners told Merlin assessors:


  • “3SC have been very transparent about the split of the profile.”


3SC has a clear strategy to manage the transfer of funds to delivery partners, which aims to reduce the administrative burden through an automated billing process, and this has been very successful. Delivery partners understand the self-billing process and confirm that, as a result, payments are consistently accurate and timely.


Due diligence is an essential process in our supply chain management process, but we intend it to be a supportive process, especially for small organisations and sole traders. 3SC provide policy/procedure templates for delivery partners to use when required. Delivery partners spoke highly regarding the approach and rationale for undertaking due diligence confirming that they understood the purpose of due diligence and found this to be robust but very supportive telling Merlin assessors:


  • “There was good support during due diligence and help to tweak our policies.”


During the life of a contract, our Contract Performance Managers (CPMs) meet with our delivery partners monthly to review performance and provide support where needed. Every delivery partner has a named CPM who builds good working relationships with their delivery partners and helps to ensure that they are able to fulfil their contractual obligations. Communications with 3SC were viewed as being open and transparent, and reference was made to 3SC personnel being knowledgeable about the sector and highly professional. Delivery partners told assessors:


  • “A supportive process that helps us stay on track.”
  • “It is very clear who we talk to about what.”
  • “Hard working with meticulous communications skills.”


The ethos of 3SC is to support, develop and encourage its delivery partners to meet their contractual requirements, as well as build a sustainable business. Many explained that 3SC had worked with them to develop policies, procedures and practices, including those relating to quality assurance, that assists them in working on their wider programmes and is not limited to 3SC’s contract with them.  3SC actively promote other funding streams to delivery partners, and where appropriate, have approached them to expand their service offer within an existing contract, or contribute to other contracts.


We believe it is important to develop our delivery partners where we can and provide opportunities for them to meet to share good practice. This was identified as a key strength in our Merlin report. Delivery partners told Merlin assessors:


  • “We have been helped as a business to grow.”
  • “They’re genuinely interested in developing and supporting third sector organisations.”
  • “Networking meetings are informative and an element of learning.”


As part of the performance management process, we also carry out Quality Deep Dives (QDDs). Our QDDs focus on a sample of customer records which we review in detail to ensure the quality of the service being delivered to customers and service users. Our Merlin report noted that several delivery partners explained how the QDD had informed the development of their own policies, procedures and practices to ensure compliance and quality of service. Delivery partners told assessors:


  • “It is a lengthy process but has definitely helped us to develop our practice.”
  • “We’ve talked about ways of working with clients and took on board some of the advice given.”
  • “We’ve received a lot of support and guidance around action planning and how to evidence the work we do with customers.”


Both during and at the end of a contract 3SC gather feedback from delivery partners to ensure we are doing the best we can and that the contract management practices adopted by 3SC have had a positive the impact on delivery partners. We feel it is important to review the impact of the services provided by delivery partners on wider social objectives, as well as individual customers. By submitting case studies our delivery partners can share and celebrate their successes with 3SC and the commissioner/funder. Delivery partners told assessors:


  • “We are involved in the 3SC network meetings and are invited to provide an update – it is really useful to have that direct contact with the supply chain.”
  • “We help build ex-offenders’ self-esteem and this helps to prevent reoffending.”
  • “Clients are more confident in work, some progress internally and some actually only remain in work due to the support.”


The above details just a few points from our full Merlin Report which can be found here.


Denise Blackwell, Risk and Quality Manager, 3SC