The Crisis of Commissioning

In December 2016, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales released a report ‘Commissioning in Crisis: How current contracting and procurement processes threaten the survival of small charities’. This report highlighted a number of areas where Commissioning was letting down charities and voluntary organisations and the communities they support. Among other aspects, the report found that Commissioning was not embodying “the effective design and delivery of policy, solutions or services” that it was meant to when it came to charities.

Commissioning has made the work of charities and voluntary organisations harder. However, the work of Commissioners is not by default easy. Commissioners also face many challenges in caught between a rock and a hard place. Commissioners  are trying to provide services to the community but are forced to meet their own targets, reduce costs and abide by procurement teams’ excessive demands.

Lloyd’s Foundation found that common sense in commissioning had been replaced by standard rigid processes that fail to understand the social issues that need addressing. The Report called for the current system in which the commissioning process takes place to be changed so that it is fit for purpose. In particular, it found three areas that were cause for concern:

–         Understanding: Commissioners lack knowledge about the services that they are commissioning and the needs of the individuals in the community which can lead to trivialising local expertise.

–         Specifications: the way the contracts and tender specifications are determined can exclude smaller charities, often the ones with the strongest links to communities, automatically.

–         Processes: The processes can inadvertently impede providers abilities to effectively and successfully bid for contracts, particularly small charities that have limited resources and capacity.

Additionally, by the smaller charities and voluntary organisations often being unable to compete in the commissioning process has meant that larger organisations’ poor practices became the norm, harmer not improving the communities they aim to help.

The Report identifying a number of ways to bring about the change that is needed:

–         Increasing understanding through a collaborative approach to commissioning by engaging in meaningful consultation working with experts and learning from the past

–         Taking a proportionate approach to all stages of commissioning including taking more use of simpler, grant funding arrangements

–         Place more emphasis on the social and long term value.

At the Central Government level, the Lloyds Foundation called for a framework to guide, support, empower and challenge commissioners to take decisions locally in a way that does not shut out local expertise and existing services through:

–         Challenging poor commissioning practice

–         Introducing a measurable target

–         Improving transparency

Until that change comes about, a feminist response to the current competitive tender process is to work in partnership with other organisations. Organisations don’t need to compete against each other, they can work together in partnership. And by working together, organisations can overcome the burdens and impacts of commissioning.

Working in partnership isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There are lots of struggles and complications working together making sure services are complementary and that there is respect, openness and willingness between the partners. The Women’s Commissioning and Support Unit is here to help providing the support and framework to ensure the partnership is strong and communities will be serviced most effectively by those that known them.

The Women’s Resource Centre has piloted a 3 year project funded by Esmée Fairbairn, the Women’s Commissioning Support Unit in Birmingham and the West Midlands, the North East, Cambridge and Greater Manchester. The project supported and facilitated women’s organisations to come together and build strategic partnerships, by developing capacity and skills offering training, one to one organisational support, tool-kits, resources and online guidance.

If you are interested in sharing your views and stories on collaboration and partnership working, finding out more about the Commissioning Unit, being part of the project or would just like to be kept up to date on what the project is doing – please contact Dionne at WRC: dionne@wrc.org.uk

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