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Councils urged to rethink the way services are commissioned

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Councils have been challenged to rethink the way they commission services, placing social values front and centre instead of focusing on cost.

Chiefs at the Society of Local Authority & Senior Managers summit were told harnessing the power of their communities could help to provide solutions to some of their financial problems.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said that when councils do apply a social values approach to commissioning services can be “cheaper, more responsive, innovative and equitable”.

A poll of the audience showed 64% slightly used social values to inform the way services are commissioned, while 32% said they used the moderately, and 4% significantly.

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith (Con), the former CEO of Mitie Group, said it was “blank sheet of paper time” regarding commissioning and outsourcing.

She said local government can “fundamentally shift” the way outsourced markets operate by focusing on a limited number of core values when redesigning services.

When asked about the collapse of Carillion, the baroness said “there is a risk it can happen again” but warned: “You have got to be clear about what you want [when commissioning]. If you buy on price you will get what you don’t want which is fundamental failure.”

In a separate session David Hutton, a partner at law firm Bevan Brittan, said the outsourcing model is not broken but admitted it does need improvement. However, he said improvement relies on commissioners asking harder questions of themselves and their providers.

Matt Prosser, current chief executive of the Dorset Councils Partnership, covering North Dorset and West Dorset DCs and Weymouth & Portland BC and set to become the chief executive of the new Dorset Council, said councils should not be scared to renegotiate contracts.

“If it’s not working for you it might not be working for them [the provider],” he said. “It should be in everyone’s interest to deliver good outcomes.”

Mr Prosser also said it was not just about going out to market to the big players.

“We should be looking to partner with our community more,” he said, and added councils need to “drop our arrogance” that they know the best way to deliver every service.

He said greater collaboration with the community provided an opportunity to deliver “great value for residents”.

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