If there’s one thing that gets the goat of charity bosses at the moment then it’s public sector commissioning. Resigned to the reality of the cuts, ire is now being focused on the way the remaining money is being spent.
Spare a thought for commissioners though. With local authorities bearing the brunt of the slash in spending, it’s a job that is more difficult than ever. As they seek to off-load risk and save money, it is no wonder that larger contracts and more tightly defined targets have become flavour of the month.
The evidence is that this is favouring bigger, more commercial providers. Charities are frequently left ‘subbing’ in the same way bricklayers, plasterers and plumbing firms do in the construction industry. This contrast in fortunes is most visibly illustrated in the much-maligned Work Programme.
Need it be like this? Is there a way round this situation for charities?
Maybe. More than ever, commissioners know that they need change in the way their services are organised. And change requires creative thinking.
So if you can think of a better way to provide a service, why not take your idea to your local commissioner? Don’t sit back and wait for a tender to be issued and then moan about losing out to Serco or Capita.
Getting involved as early as possible is one of the rules of smart contracting as it gives you the chance to shape services (and put yourself in a better position to deliver). This doesn’t only apply to charities but also to trusts and foundations that can no longer guarantee the state will step in as the future funder of successful grantees. The lessons of Public Social Partnerships in Scotland and the emergence of new models in England gives a taste what might be possible here.
We are entering a new world where creative thinking, innovation partnerships and good relationships is what public services has to be about. And that’s charities’ responsibility as well as local commissioners’.