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The advantages and disadvantages of local commissioning

Kirsty McHugh
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Kirsty Mc Hugh from the ERSA: Councils must play a bigger role in back-to-work services

As councillors and local government officials I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of you had a rather jaundiced view of the back-to-work sector. 

After all, isn’t service delivery terrible and isn’t it just large private sector companies involved? No wonder many local authorities out there must be saying “surely we could commission/deliver something better for our local unemployed?”

Well, you’re right that welfare to work services have been through the wars recently. Used as a test bed for a range of public sector reform initiatives, the sector has coped with huge change in a short period. 

Performance expectations weren’t met in the early years, not least because the programme was launched before it was ready, government hadn’t taken the economic downturn into account and there was insufficient cash overall to meet the barriers of some on Employment and Support Allowance. 

The crying shame is that charities, training enterprises, housing associations and local authorities, alongside the bigger players, have had a tough job made tougher.

About 500,000 long-term unemployed have gained a job on the Work Programme alone. The majority of targets are being met. Not a story you hear in the media of course.

The biggest potential advantage to local commissioning is its ability to drive the integration of services around the jobseeker. This is particularly important in relation to the very hardest to help. The biggest concern over local commissioning is value for money.

It’s very easy to commission expensive employment services that get few people back into work. The government has tried to tackle this through using payment by results. However, such contracts are fiendishly difficult to price and manage.  

Whether we go down a local commissioning route or not – councils have to play a bigger role in back-to-work services. The need for integration with health and social services, local economic development and housing support means this must be the case.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive, Employment Related Services Association

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