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The role of commissioners in social enterprise

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Public service spin outs must align themselves with commissioners’ needs, say Chris Brophy and Tracy Giles

What are the priorities for commissioners?

From our experience, some of the key drivers for commissioners are:

  1. Delivering safe, sustainable and high quality services, within the context of the choice and personalisation agenda;
  2. Finances and value for money;
  3. Wider social value and community benefits;
  4. A desire to deliver more integrated and seamless services across entire care pathways; and
  5. In some cases, going so far as to  reassess the traditional approaches to develop commissioning and provision models that move towards effective preventative interventions,  looking at the wider determinants of  health and well-being and engendering more personal responsibility for our own individual health and well-being, wherever possible.

The Care Bill of course also focusses on improving people’s independence and wellbeing, ensuring that people can get the information that they need toneed to make good decisions about their care and support and to have a range of good providers to choose from. Local Authorities will need to have a greater role in “market-shaping” and providing market position statements.   This should help social enterprises providing care and support know who they are designing services for so that they can develop the right care for the right people.

Any decision to establish a new social or mutual enterprise then, needs to ensure that it fully understands and aligns itself with the priorities and objectives of its commissioners or on an individual basis, with those purchasing their own services.  The person centred care narrative states that “my care is planned with people who work together to understand me and my carer(s), put me in control, co-ordinate and deliver services to achieve my best outcomes”  and that is what new social enterprises should also be aiming to achieve in the delivery of their services.Social Enterprises may also want to be pro-active in remaining close to their commissioners and their local Health and Wellbeing Boards to ensure that they are able to be proactively involved in informing the commissioning decisions in their local area rather than being reactive to tenders that may be issued.

Similarly, they may also need to consider what impact a wider move to implement personal budgets may have on your business and income under current contracts as this could represent both a threat and an opportunity for your business.

What are the key issues for the social enterprise?

Being the chosen provider by getting the core things right:

  • Meeting the commissioners stated needs is a given, but alongside that the new enterprise will need to be able to demonstrate a robust and credible business plan, competent motivated leadership, clear and sensible ownership and governance and ultimately the ability to deliver;
  • By having strong USPs based around being a Social Enterprise i.e. user engagement and support with scope for behaviour change; staff engaged and keen to work differently; effective modern service-delivery model and being highly outcome focussed.
  • By knowing your strengths and weaknesses in your market place and addressing those when responding to potential bids and tenders. For instance, do you need to consider other strategic partnerships or bidding on a consortium basis, to give you greater strength and expertise in a particular area to ensure your success.

Social Enterprises may also be well placed to build the community capacity and development and depending upon on it is constituted should be able to derive greater benefits for its local communities and those individuals receiving its services.

Social Enterprises may also want to take some key decisions around its core business and risks that it may want to take, particularly in situations where its local commissioners may be considering implementing prime provider models or alliance contracting for particular services. What does this mean for your business? What role would your business want to undertake in relation to that and what strategic alliances or partnerships may you need to be thinking about to enable that to happen. Again, it is often better for social enterprises to be pro-active rather than reactive to such initiatives so it is afforded enough time to plan and prepare for this and to retain the degree of control and risk that the organisation and its key stakeholders are happy with.

Isn’t it easier for councils and other host organisations just to go down the privatisation route? 

That is one option, though that is never easy either.  There may be a temptation for commissioners to hang on to control via Teckal or a Local Authority Trading Company, and we look at this as a more evolutionary route next week.  Equally, seizing the moment now may be the better option in some circumstances. This does require working with the host organisation through the externalisation process (see Q&A 3), winning staff support through an exciting new opportunity (see Q&A 5 and Q&A 6), and developing an attractive offering for commissioners.

Any fundamental and innovative change is likely to present its own challenges, but this agenda is far too important to not deliver on that basis.  Leaders and staff may also need some personal investment and development to equip them with all of the necessary skills to help them deliver on this agenda.

How can we go down an evolutionary route? Please see Next week for more on this.

This article is part of a series. Find the other articles at


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Waheed Saleem

    Social enterprises should also innovate and provide solutions to the Commissioners on issue they are facing, commissioners don't have the answers!

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