Councils need ‘more sophisticated’ approach to commissioning

12 December 2012

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12 December 2012 | Anna Reynolds

Councils need to implement a “more sophisticated” approach to commissioning by collaborating with service providers, according to research by the CBI and think-tank New Local Government Network (NLGN).

“A healthy and competitive market is vital for the future of local government, but on present trends we risk getting stuck in the old rut of incremental savings and adversarial relationships. Local government and its partners must work together to create a new generation of innovative contracts,” said Simon Parker, director of NLGN.

A joint report Commissioning Dialogues argued effective commissioning cannot be a “one-player game” wholly owned by commissioning teams but needs engagement from all stakeholders. Only 25 per cent of commissioners surveyed felt providers and service users were directly involved in the commissioning process.

The report called for greater transparency, earlier engagement and more clarity surrounding EU procurement law to improve relationships between commissioners and providers. Further, if the two work together to identify local outcomes and solutions before the formal procurement process has begun, more creative and efficient solutions will come to light.

An example of this in the report was a council working towards reducing household waste (the outcome) with the number of rubbish collections each week (the solution).

Matthew Fell, director competitive markets at the CBI, said: “Only limited savings can be realised by transactional relationships that focus on procurement processes. If providers understand more about a local council’s wider objectives, they can propose innovative, cost-cutting ways to meet them based on real business capabilities.”

The report also described the skills appropriate to traditional, procurement-focused models as “too narrow” for commissioning and found providers felt local authority staff were not sufficiently equipped. The report suggested councils pull together existing skillsets into commissioning teams focused on outcomes and apply the right skills at the start of the process.

The research was based on a survey of 184 local authority commissioners and providers in the private and voluntary sectors together with roundtable discussions with 86 attendees between council officers and service providers.

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