01 December 2006 | Antony Barton
Local authorities must improve commissioning practice if they are to encourage the wellbeing of children and young people, according to a CBI report.
The research suggests that councils' responsibility to younger people, as set out in the government's 2005 green paper for children's services Every Child Matters
, will only be met if councils improve communication with suppliers, particularly those in the private sector. Making every child matter: better commissioning, better care
found that local authorities mistakenly believe that it is cheaper to commission services in-house. Yet it supports the mixed-market approach. It says: "A market allows commissioners to set out their vision for integrated children's services clearly and to challenge providers to come up with innovative solutions that improve the quality of care."
It claims that local authorities need a better understanding of how to interact with markets and must create clear project specifications to ensure that suppliers are aware of their exact requirements.
It also suggests that, as the market develops, stability of contracts and good dialogue will mean providers are more inclined to invest in capacity and improve their services. It recommends that contract lengths are set to allow the development of partnerships between suppliers and local authorities, with regular contract reviews to monitor changing needs.
It is important that local authorities show impartiality towards private and public-sector suppliers, according to the report. It says that a preference for sourcing from the public sector "puts at risk the whole principle of the best provider delivering services, which means children and parents lose out".
The CBI outlines six key principles for local authorities: clarify the outcomes you want to achieve and base service requirements on them; consider what can be achieved and know what is available in the market; develop competitive supply markets managed by skilled professional staff; design governance arrangements that are fit for purpose; use central government and other bodies as a resource; and ensure transparency and rigour in the tendering process.