Participated in a Strategic Commissioning Masterclass today at the Admiralty Arch in London, with the National School of Government.
Peter Housden the Permanent Secretary at DCLG opens up and outlines the Governments views on commissioning. He talks about how services improved by 25% from 2001 but at the same time public satisfaction fell. I question him about this anomaly and we agree that maybe CPA wasn't designed with public opinion fully in mind at the time but was based around Government priorities. He understands the arguments around investing in refuse collection and the highly visible services but that the high spenders of education and social services soaking up resources and investment.
Professor Tony Bovaird and Dr Barbara Allen from Birmingham University lead the next session and outline several versions of what commissioning is. One of Tony's later slides suggest a model as to how commissioning, procurement and contracting should work, which suggests getting to a fairly advanced stage before considering delivery options and when doing so to treat them all as neutral. I challenge some of the assumptions behind this and point to the DCLG statutory guidance issued this month on strong and prosperous communities that outlines local authorities commissioning roles as, regularly assessing and reviewing services (including those delivered externally), and where they are under performing in comparison with others and having failed in terms of an improvement plan only then should you move towards a competition process. Basically there is nothing statutory that says you need to turn every area of service delivery into a commissioning process that leads to a procurement exercise.
The debate goes on and John Tizzard (ex Capita) comes in on the points I made and says we don't want to turn commissioning in to a mechanistic process, there needs to be an element of political choice about it. So long as this is based on tangible evidence I am fully supportive of this.
I believe we are still in the early stages of shaping the strategic commissioning agenda and it will formulate more coherently over the coming months. However local authorities should be clear about what their statutory duties are and not be scared or cajoled into doing something they don't necessarily think is correct for them, just because some spiv in a sharp suit tells them it's whats required.