Why the Care Act 2014 is a great opportunity for procurement

posted by Craig Brewin
26 September 2017

The Care Act 2014 is one of the most important pieces of procurement legislation in recent times, writes Craig Brewin head of commissioning, Adult Social Care, at Slough Borough Council 

One of my favourite procurement quotes of recent years came from Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, who described “commissioning and procurement staff” as “the new rock ‘n’ roll gods of public service”.

I’ve repeated it often – not in relation to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which he was addressing, but the Care Act 2014. This act is one of the most important pieces of procurement legislation for some time. Its implementation at the same time as the abolition of Part B of the Public Contract Regulations makes it something that procurement teams should be addressing.

The Act provides a statutory duty to apply to social care a number of activities and approaches that are core to the procurement and supply profession. This in turn provides the opportunity for the profession to extend its reach and work as a genuine partner in the delivery of social care in an increasingly difficult financial climate.

The Care Act statutory guidance states that commissioning and procurement are “interrelated” and that “local authorities should have in place published strategies that show how market and supply analysis, market structuring and interventions, and procurement and contract management activities translate into appropriate high quality services that deliver identified outcomes for the people in their area”. We should be “streamlining the authority’s own procurement processes” and using “flexibility in procurement practices” to “facilitate entry into the market by new providers” and to “support innovation in service delivery.”

In Slough, a small unitary council, we have put a lot of emphasis on improving contestability in weak social care and public health markets, drawing on tools and techniques rather than financial muscle and well resourced teams. Here are the five key things that we have done.

  1. Created a commercially focussed commissioning team based around activities associated with procurement. These include supplier relationship managers, project managers, supplier performance officers, and a market development team. Governance is through a commercial board consisting of procurement and commissioning staff.
  2. Rewritten the rules. We have extended the light touch procurement regime across all social care and public health procurement with a formal approval process for routes to market.
  3. Focussed on the value suppliers can create. We now map our specifications across the public sector value chain covering use of resources, service inputs, activities provided, outputs, near outcomes and final outcomes. We tend to write our specifications with an emphasis on the right hand side of the value chain, clearly state our budget, and encourage bidders to use their ideas, experience and technology to close the gap between the two. We have, when feasible, tendered multi-million pound contracts with a one-page specification.
  4. Reviewed our contracts. Contracts are being redesigned to reflect the value creation process, the strategic partnership we want with the supplier, and the quantitative and qualitative data we need to ensure that value is being created as set out in the bid. Pure outcome-based monitoring can be undermined by the lack of a counterfactual, but we review the impact of each stage of the value chain on the next and create output and near outcome measure that indicate effectiveness, along with user feedback.
  5. Manage our supply base. We have a multiple lot dynamic purchasing system, which allows us to notify providers of relevant opportunities and engage early. It also allows us to tender for services for individuals, supported living for example, where services are required that are not covered by existing contracts. This adds a procurement discipline to arrangements previously dominated by frameworks, block contracts and spot purchasing.

These are early days, but social care legislation has a habit of hanging around for a long time, so approaches will evolve over time.  There are, and will be, plenty of opportunities for the procurement and supply profession as a whole to support and play a leading role in a £30bn industry.

Craig Brewin is head of commissioning, Adult Social Care, at Slough Borough Council 

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