There's a tendency to focus on the negatives whenever we discuss the implications of our ageing population.
For example, it is estimated the impact will cost the NHS an extra £1.4 billion a year between now and 2017 alone, with the figure rocketing as we head towards a predicted 16 million people aged 65 or over by the mid-2030s.
But increasing life expectancy ought to be viewed as positive. Crucially, it’s the way in which we get ready for demographic change that will determine the shape and quality of local services and how well we cope. This is where procurement can play an important role in determining the standard of living for millions of people, something I’ll be discussing at PfH Live in June.
In the social housing world and the wider public sector, a more creative and innovative approach to procurement could maximise the impact of the resources we have available and help to deliver services that support longer, healthier lives. This means a shift away from traditional commissioner-supplier relationships to alternative, more dynamic partnership arrangements. But what exactly do I mean by this?
In the case of social housing organisations, they often play the role of both commissioner and provider of key services. The nature of their work in local communities means they are uniquely placed to use procurement to deliver on a wide range of fronts, from securing local training and employment opportunities to crime prevention or improving health outcomes.
This isn’t just about housing organisations focusing on community benefits when procuring from suppliers (despite the fact that social landlords were recently commended for their work around social value procurement in a recent Cabinet Office report). It’s also about landlords establishing their own role as suppliers, especially in the provision of health services.
For example, last year Midland Heart housing association won a local NHS tender and opened a 29-bed specialist care housing unit for older patients in hospital grounds. This type of project shows the role housing can play in supplying innovative care to the NHS at much lower rates than keeping older patients in acute wards.
As we move towards greater integration between health, housing and social care, there will be more opportunities for social housing procurement teams to demonstrate the added value and fresh perspective that their organisations can bring.
By using their knowledge and expertise as both commissioners and providers, housing associations in particular can design and supply the kind of bespoke support needed to prepare for the future challenges of an ageing population.
☛ Gill Payne is director of policy and external affairs at the National Housing Federation and will be speaking on this topic at PfH Live on 24th June