25 October 2006 | Paul Snell
Social care purchasers and procurement departments do not fully understand the complexity of the services they buy.
That is the accusation being levelled in Time to care?
, published last week by the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) which reviews and reports on social care services in England.
"Councils' contract units and finance teams often had a particularly poor understanding of the distinctive characteristics of the social care sector," the report said.
The CSCI said this was a common feeling among those who provide care services. The report also quotes one chief executive who said: "Commissioning social care is not the same as buying any other commodity. It is not the same as purchasing office supplies. It requires a different approach to ordering a thousand reams of photocopying paper."
The CSCI said procurement departments in local authorities are often responsible for the purchase of social care services, overseen by a contract manager with expertise in that area.
The report suggested people who work in social care should be involved in drawing up contracts for the services. It also said there should be more involvement of people who use the services, when drawing up specifications and evaluating bids.
Many service providers told the CSCI they had adversarial relationships with councils, "dominated by arguments over fee levels". The CSCI recommended councils explore the potential of working more closely with local providers and establish a "real dialogue" between purchasers and providers.