Curiously, there has been little focus on collaborative procurement more generally
Recalibrating public expectations
Since the election we have seen a familiar cycle emerge. Government professes its localist credentials, passes extra responsibilities, duties or ‘flexibility’ to councils and reduces funding. Local government warns that funding cuts may affect services. Government responds that the answer lies in ‘efficiencies’ – more shared services and reducing administrative costs. Local government points to the quantum of saving required and emphasises that ‘efficiency’ alone will not be sufficient.
The cycle is neatly played out in the LGA’s shared services report released this week.
It is crucial that government recognises the challenge and commits to finding solution to funding adult social care
It is undoubtedly the case that demographic changes will create an unprecedented pressure on social care services, the like of which will threaten to crowd out other services in some councils within a decade, as well as pressure on district services such as council tax support, housing adaptation and homelessness services.
It is crucial that government recognises the challenge and commits to finding solution to funding adult social care. But given its unwillingness to do so in a timely fashion and the fact that the next spending review has been pushed back, it is clear councils can’t afford to hold their breath or assume than an answer will be forthcoming.
Such is the scale of the funding challenge that there is no single solution. As the LGA’s report makes clear, shared services does offer opportunities but will not alone provide the answer. Curiously, there has been little focus on collaborative procurement more generally. Like shared services, collaborative procurement offers an opportunity to save where there is duplication or little local variation.
Bill Roots’ procurement review, published in 2009 and destined to sit on a dusty shelf ever since, called for a “pragmatic matrix setting out who does what, nationally; regionally; sub regionally, etc”. Areas such as energy procurement could be procured satisfactorily even at national level, he suggested. In other areas, local procurement and commissioning could secure the best price and support local economies.
Much of the architecture that Mr Roots envisaged using to support collaborative procurement has since been dismantled. But the opportunities remain.
Beyond this, it falls to councils to take the politically difficult decisions where government is unwilling. Billing authorities are already faced with deciding whether to absorb council tax benefit losses or reduce support for working poor. This is just the start.
Demand management, altering eligibility criteria, looking at charging, and removing some services altogether or passing to arms’ length organisations all have a role to play. This will require a new relationship with the private and voluntary sectors. But the greatest challenge may lie in recalibrating public expectations.
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