A more ‘intelligent’ era
Some local authorities are moving at breakneck speed to commission more and deliver less. Others are being more pragmatic and cautious. But the direction of travel is clear - the issue is whether or not councils have the systems, skills and working culture in place to deal with change and meet the challenges that are coming their way.
The new commissioning model is all about the added value that services deliver. Three questions are key in determining whether we are delivering on this ‘value’ goal.
First, are we buying services that target the highest need?
For example, it is common for children’s services to miss as many as one-third of the highest-need children and to offer costly support to those who don’t need help.
Second, are our services underperforming? The fact is that some cause actual harm and many others deliver outcomes that fall far short of goals.
Are we paying the right price for a specific service? Traditional procurement will often squeeze price down, regardless of quality and impact, but it can also cost over the odds - with more than 100% variation in the price paid for identical services in different localities.
Local authorities can make deep savings just by bearing down hard on this long tail of failure.
But there is also a more positive track record in recognising and reinvesting in more effective practice.
There are tried and tested programmes that deserve to be replicated, such as the Triple P positive parenting scheme. There are star-performing providers and more effective practices that need to be scaled up. Befriending schemes for the elderly deliver impressive returns. Offer support to a mother who has just come out of prison to take charge of her family and the savings are remarkable.
This is where the hard edge of results-based funding lies.
The core issue is one of intelligence. Most local authorities have high-level statements of different key outcomes. They also have a sea of data that could be used in many creative ways.
But they lack the flow of intelligence about frontline delivery of impact that is required to be a truly effective commissioner.
Top-down targets imposed from on high are thankfully a thing of the past - the intelligent commissioning of the future will require a new kind of working relationship between funder, service provider and social investor.
Of course, bruising decisions will still be required. But this will be a hundred times better than an endless cycle of funding cuts.
We need the intelligence required to invest now to save a fortune later.
Matthew Pike is chair of views.coop, who spoke at the recent Future Leaders meeting in Cheltenham Matthew@substance.coop