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Idea Exchange: How we forged a new procurement partnership for looked-after children

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perfect liz for web

perfect liz for web

Liz Perfect, Leicestershire CC’s head of service commissioning and planning for children and family services, explains how an innovative contracting model will allow the appointed partner to simultaneously design services and deliver many of them

Objectives: In response to placement sufficiency challenges, financial pressures and market inflexibility the council wanted to design and procure a partnership model for an external partner to jointly design and deliver services for young people on the edge of care, in care and leaving care. 

Timescale: From concept to contract award was 12 months

Cost to authority: No additional cost

Staff working on project: Resourced from core staff teams as and when needed

Outcomes: £700m 10-year contract with Barnardo’s


In 2018, Leicestershire CC started to develop a strategy in response to financial challenges and the need to ensure sufficient places for looked-after children.

We needed to save £54m by 2020-21, including £3.7m in children’s social care. At the same time the number of looked-after children in Leicestershire was set to grow, resulting in an estimated cost increase of £14.7m by 2020-21. 

We sourced care and fostering services for looked-after children through traditional markets but found these often inflexible and less responsive to young people with complex needs.

In response, we created the Care Placement Strategy, which aims to more effectively manage the looked-after children system from edge of care through to leaving care. But we found that in order to make these whole-system changes, the expertise of an external partner was needed. 

The concept of a Children’s Innovation Partnership (CIP) was then developed with a vision to procure a partnership, rather than a service, and for the partner to be able to co-invest, co-design and co-deliver innovative, flexible, responsive services to support Leicestershire’s children and families. 

The partner organisation would be required to bring its expertise, experience, investment and flexibility to the design and delivery of children’s services and to work alongside Leicestershire children and family services.

In developing the CIP, we realised the biggest challenge was converting the vision of a partnership with an external organisation, which has the flexibility to design and deliver services across a whole system, into a contractual model, compliant with procurement regulations.

Research was undertaken to determine what was possible within the procurement regulations. None of the available procedures would allow a partner to be appointed and deliver ongoing simultaneous design and service delivery. Instead, the flexibility within the light touch regime, the procurement rules set out in Public Contracts Regulations 2015, was used to design a hybrid version of the open procedure to develop a partnership model and a tender that aimed to assess the suitability of potential partners rather than a solution.  

It was a challenge to define the scope in enough detail as required by the regulations without limiting the reach of the CIP. Research into contracting approaches not normally used in social care, discussion among internal and external experts and counsel advice allowed the solution to be reached. Unlike traditional social care contracts, the CIP was designed to operate on a two-tier contractual arrangement.  

The first tier is underpinned by a collaboration agreement which sets out the governance and design processes. There are no costs associated with this as both parties will provide experts to form a joint design team. Design briefs will be issued to this team which will use its collective expertise to design innovative services to meet the briefs.

The second tier covers the contractual arrangements for the delivery of services designed by the CIP design teams. There are a range of options for service delivery, including partner delivery, partner and council co-delivery or third-party provider delivery. 

As the solution reached is unusual, the team experienced challenge from internal stakeholders but we were able to mitigate each risk raised in order to successfully tender the CIP.

The council consulted a range of stakeholders and specialists and established an internal cross-functional project group from across the organisation. In particular, the close working relationship between the children’s head of commissioning, the procurement specialist and the solicitor were crucial in developing the CIP model. 

An extensive pre-procurement market engagement exercise was undertaken which involved a provider event, written submissions and meetings with a select number of interested providers. The discussions with providers reassured us that there was market interest in becoming a partner and these were used to help shape the final invitation to tender documents.

For the purpose of the OJEU, the financial value was based on the total spend of services delivered and commissioned in the care placement strategy, which was £70m per year. On the basis of a 10-year contract, the maximum contract value was advertised as £700m, although it was strongly noted that it was not anticipated that all of this work would be delivered by the successful partner. The contract is for a maximum 10-year period with annual termination clause for either partner.

Following a robust invitation to tender and individual interviews process, the contract was awarded to Barnardo’s in November 2018. The collaboration agreement commenced on 1 December. From concept to contract it took us 12 months. 

Barnardo’s has commissioned the University of Bedfordshire and lead researcher Dr Julie Harris as its evaluation partner. The evaluation partner will work with all parties in order to learn from the development of the partnership. 

The CIP board was established in December and monthly meetings have been held. Leicestershire and Barnardo’s have a CIP strategic lead to drive the vision, identify collaborative opportunities and ‘unblock’ any challenges. An asset-based approach has been applied to the implementation of the CIP, so the focus is always what we can achieve rather than what might be a barrier to achieving this. A solution-focused approach is then applied to deal with barriers one step at a time, both within the service design briefs and in the broader context of what can be achieved by working together.

Although it’s still very new, the CIP has successfully established a service team for its first design brief on stability and sufficient placements. This will include a full research project and in-depth data analysis commissioned by Barnardo’s and recommendations for future service design and delivery developed by the service experts from both Barnardo’s and Leicestershire.

Service design for briefs two and three have been agreed by the board. Service experts from Leicestershire and Barnardo’s have been identified and work will commence this month. 

Over the summer we will also launch a project to reach 2,852 children across the county. A collaborative bid to the Department for Education holiday activity and food fund was led by Barnardo’s and has successfully been awarded nearly £800,000. The implementation of this project is a collaboration between Barnardo’s, Leicestershire, Leicestershire & Rutland Sport and Voluntary Action Leicestershire. The funding for the delivery of the activities will be issued through a grant process to local delivery partners.

This case study will feature in a report to be launched at the Public Service Transformation Academy Public Service: State of Transformation conference on 18 June. l




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