E-auction for social services criticised

26 April 2009

27 April 2009 | Jake Kanter

Public sector buyers have defended social care procurement methods in the wake of a damning BBC probe.

The Panorama investigation, aired on BBC One on 9 April, claimed South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) in Scotland awarded a contract for home care services to the lowest bidder during an e-auction in 2007.

The BBC claimed the service provided fell below the minimum standards for social care set out in Scotland.

SLC told SM the contract award was based 40 per cent on price and 60 per cent on quality. Results of an investigation launched by SLC auditors into the supplier's standards are due to be reported to SLC's social work committee in June.

Other core buyers told SM the programme highlighted an area of increasing interest.

Louise Flaherty, purchasing officer for Gloucestershire County Council's adult services strategic commissioning team, said e-auctions could be a useful tool to secure low prices, but suppliers must be monitored carefully.

She said the council had a successful record of working with care services vendors to pre-empt problems and provide training.

"We purchase more than £10 million of domiciliary care (home care) a year and we get hardly any complaints."

Matthew Jones, head of community procurement at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, said it was important to maintain a balance between price and quality when buying care.

He said councils were starting to use framework agreements for social care to ensure demand was managed, and service and prices remained competitive.

He added the Hammersmith & Fulham authority offered a "very personalised" service, directed by the needs of the individual care service user.

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