The future is collaborative commissioning

The future is collaborative commissioning

In our fourth blog on the Civil Society Strategy we focus on chapter 5 on collaborative commissioning.

The Government spends over £200billion on outsourced services. It has come to recognise that this has resulted in a transactional model of service delivery, with an often rigid focus on quantifiable costs, volumes, and timescales rather than on the relationships, flexibility, and patience which the reality of life for many people and communities demands.

The commissioning model often favours large companies who are better able to navigate complex commissioning systems, bid aggressively (including with ‘loss leader’ bids to take more of the market), and who can carry the financial risk passed on by commissioners to providers. The system restricts diversity of the market by putting in significant barriers that exclude smaller providers. It fails to recognise the added value that small and local organisations can bring.

The government’s vision for public services in the modern era is one of ‘collaborative commissioning’. This means that in the future, local stakeholders will be involved in an equal and meaningful way in commissioning and all the resources of a community, including but not confined to public funding, will be deployed to tackle the community’s challenges. People will be trusted to co-design the services they use.

Rather than being treated as the passive recipients of services designed elsewhere, the people of the community will be the active shapers of their own future, trusted to ‘co-design’ services, to direct commissioning decisions, and to play their part in making the service work.

An important role of the government will be to ‘steward’ the public service market, using the most appropriate funding mechanism to achieve social value, be that contracts, grants or social investment. This means helping ensure far higher standards by commissioning collaboratively for outcomes.

The government will support the spread of ‘Citizen Commissioners’, local people supported to make commissioning decisions on behalf of their communities. The government will support local authorities who are leading the way in co-designing, co-producing, and co-delivering their services with users and their local communities. This approach is welcome and is something that is already beginning to happen in Southwark. One of the measures of success set out in the local VCS Strategy, “Common Purpose Common Cause”, is that in future years’ residents and communities will have a greater say in the design and delivery of services and new ways of working and new models of delivery are encouraged and supported. A common outcomes framework has been agreed and the local voluntary sector has been involved in shaping the indicators.

Whist Government can set high level a high level vision, local authorities are uniquely placed to bring together all partners, including the voluntary sector, to take a wider view in addressing some of the key challenges faced by communities and to ensure the most vulnerable people are not left behind.

A new range of funding options have emerged in recent years, including social impact bonds.  These alternatives have often been at the expense of more traditional funding options. The Government wants to revive the practice of grant-making – ‘Grants 2.0’ – to reflect the fact that grants can combine flexibility with the accountability and performance rigour of a contract, and also bring ‘additionality’, such as philanthropic or in-kind investment. The government will develop a range of intiatives to promote grants, including new guidance for all commissioners on grant making to small and local charities.

As briefly covered in the first of this series of short blogs, social value is to be strengthened. Too often it is an afterthought, and a ‘tick box exercise’ to be performed for compliance only, rather than social value being designed into the service in a purposeful manner.

Commissioners and providers alike struggle with its meaning and application. The solution to these challenges is better information and training for commissioners and bidders, and a strong and public steer from central government about the priorities for public spending.

In addition to strengthening the Social Value Act, government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Act to goods and works and to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently.

Secondly, the government will explore the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts.

Thirdly, the government will also explore whether the Social Value Act should be applied to other areas of public decision making such as planning and community asset transfer.