Call to adopt commissioning skills in the public sector

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20 March 2011 | Lindsay Clark

Public procurement needs to rethink some of its basic assumptions to adapt to the agenda of service commissioning, a leading think tank has said.

As the government is set to publish its white paper on public service reform, Matthew Horne, managing partner at not-for-profit research group the Innovation Unit said that procurement - both professionals and the purchasing process - needs to adapt to the new policy.

Previewing research to be released with the white paper, Horne said there was a growing procurement orthodoxy to seek economies of scale to increase efficiency which will not always produce the best outcome for the community.

He defined commissioning as “a very clear process that links the needs of the community to the resources, the priorities and the decision making that feeds through into the procurement process”.

While there was a lot of discussion about private or third sector provision of public services, this did not always connect with community needs, he said. “There is a lot more talk about commissioning than actually doing it.” 

Horne said there was a bias towards in-house providers of public services as well as a lack of flexibility about changing suppliers which leads to a bias in favour of the incumbent provider whether they’re in the public or private sector.

“It is hard for new providers to break into that relationship between commissioners and providers,” Horne said at the Public Sector Efficiency Expo earlier this week.

Broadly, he argued, there were not enough commissioning skills in the public sector. “What we see is a lack of confidence in commissioning from either people with a procurement background or people with a front-line service background,” he added.

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