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In this fast moving world, flexibility is key

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What’s right for one authority could be very damaging for another. What’s strategically sound for one community may clash completely with political agendas in another.

However, there is now clear evidence of the value of a much more sophisticated and versatile approach to service provision which harnesses the respective strengths of proven in-house and private sector expertise and fuels relevant engagement of the third sector and local community groups.

Significantly, this shift towards more flexible commissioning arrangements is acting as a catalyst for a much greater focus on what matters most to both a council and the citizens it serves: sustainable outcomes that make a very real and positive difference to the quality and effectiveness of services being provided. The important point here, however, is to know from the outset – at the point of procurement – what outcomes are required for what needs. Above all else, this demands insight and leadership.

It’s not just a case of having a coherent vision and having ideas on how and where improvements can be made to existing services. The level of insight required for sound decision making in contract development and service fulfilment – as well as effective risk management – demands a convincing grasp of the evolving needs and priorities of citizens, the relative value and role of new and emerging technologies and an awareness of how to apply the respective skills and resources of partners to best effect. Only then can clear outcomes be defined and, consequently, clear targets for service improvements and efficiency savings agreed and constantly updated.

In this digital age and increasingly global society, nothing stands still. A flexible commissioning structure sets the tone and provides the framework but is not, in itself, the end of the story. Flexibility needs to be followed through in all areas of service delivery and development. It’s for this reason that clear, decisive and collective leadership is essential to help lubricate the cultural shift and transformation required for delivering flexible and high-standard services at the very time when budgets are under such close scrutiny.

Although the principles of shared risks and rewards are important within such partnership models, the significance of effective leadership in the adoption of outcome-based solutions is not restricted to commissioning and contract procurement. It needs to be maintained at all times, as incremental service achievements and improved efficiencies can be used to consolidate developing trust between the council and its service delivery partners, This, in turn, will help to ensure the improved flexibility in service delivery is sustainable and always aligned with relevant outcomes.

Philip Ruston is business development director at Serco

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