The role of social value outcomes in commissioning services

William Jabang

A contract culture has become widespread in public services, but the question often asked is: is ‘price’ alone a satisfactory mechanism for deciding what is done and by whom? The very meaning of ‘value’ has been dominated by the notion of price. In many organisational settings, price is seen as the most obvious way of gauging contract performance, as well as the means by which to judge efficiency.

However, many have questioned this approach and successive governments have sought to widen the debate by bringing forward policies that go beyond price as a mechanism for deciding what has to be done and how. This could be best illustrated by the ‘Best Value’ regime that emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century and still places a duty upon public services to seek best value – where price alone is seen as restrictive in ensuring that services match with what the public actually wants and needs.

This has brought with it certain difficulties and challenges that many public sector managers and elected members have experienced. However, the search goes on for policies and legislative instruments that help bring the public’s needs and requirements closer to an institutional decision-making mechanism that looks beyond price to ensure that what the public value is in line with what they get. Few citizens take the time to investigate the actual cost (in price terms alone) of contracts that are led by public bodies. Eric Pickles took the lead in expressing his desire to have an ‘army of armchair auditors’ scrutinising the books of public bodies after the 2010 General Election, though little evidence beyond the activity of the Tax Payers’ Alliance exists to support this desire.

Many public service managers will have been exposed to the debate introduced by Mark Moore some years ago on the concept of ‘Public Value’ – an interesting line of thinking that has occupied academics for some years now. The next step in this journey has now been taken. On 31st January 2013, the Public Services (Social Value) Act came into force in Engaldn and Wales (although its application to Wales is limited). The Act provides a new statutory requirement for public authorities to consider the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the local area when commissioning or procuring services.

Consideration of social value is generally not promoted in the existing design, process and delivery of procurement. A recent survey carried out by Guardian Professional indicates that many procurement and commissioning staff feel they don’t even have the skills and training needed to carry out social value commissioning and procurement effectively.

Given the relatively short time for which the Act has been in place, it could be argued that it is too early to assess its full impact on procurement design, process and delivery. However, an appraisal of the level of awareness and degree of implementation of the Act by the public and voluntary/community sector could be important, providing a useful pointer to the potential effectiveness of the Act and the outcomes it could deliver.

In view of this, INLOGOV is working together with the Society of Procurement Officers (SOPO), the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) to carry out a survey. The survey aims to:

  1. Examine the awareness and perception of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012
  2. Identify changes (if any) which organisations are making as a result of the Act
  3. Establish whether or not the Act has opened up (or is likely to open up) more contract opportunities for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations (VCSEs)
  4. Establish whether cost is a deterrent to pursuing social value outcomes.

We would appreciate it if you could provide us with your views by completing one of our survey questionnaires. The survey findings will be published jointly by the four organisations named above. It is the aim of the researching organisations that the information from this survey will help to improve existing practice and will enhance the sharing of knowledge between organisations.

The survey is likely to take approximately 15-20 minutes and all information provided will be held in strict confidence – and will be recorded and stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Please click to complete either the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations questionnaire; or the Public Sector/NHS organisations questionnaire.

Thank you for taking part.

William Jabang is a Doctoral Researcher at INLOGOV. His PhD research is focused on commissioning and procuring social value.

Why do we need a new model of public services?

Catherine Staite

Public services, including those commissioned and delivered by local government, have changed substantially in the past ten years. There have been changes in service delivery mechanisms, in relationships between users and services, in organisational structures and in partnership arrangements. It appears likely that the next ten years will bring at least as much change, if not more. One thing is clear: the old model of public services – people expect and services provide – is no longer tenable.  The growing gap between demand and resources has been described in terms of ‘the jaws of doom’.  That is one way of looking at the future.  Another way is to see the opportunities which we have to renegotiate ‘the deal’ between people and public services.

INLOGOV is working with a wide range of local authorities and other bodies to test a new model of public services. The model draws together many of the themes in current debates about the ways in which the public sector is likely  to have to change, in particular, how public services can manage demand, build capacity and achieve better mutual understanding, through the development of stronger relationships with communities as well as through co-production and behaviour change.  The purpose of this model is to support public service leaders – both political and managerial – to make better sense of a complex world.

INLOGOV’s model brings together the disparate cultural, structural, political and financial challenges facing local government and wider public services into an integrated framework, which takes account not only of individual drivers of change but also of the inter-relationship between changes in public services and the wider political and social context in which those changes are taking place. If we have a coherent model which reflects current and future realities it will be easier for us to explore possible solutions together.

We have concentrated on the challenges and opportunities for local government, in partnership with other local and national institutions.  That is not because we think local government is the most important player on the public service stage, it is because we think it plays a unique role as a convenor and mediator between conflicting interests within complex networks of players.  It is in this role that it can provide the creativity and connectivity to help shape solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of rising demand and falling resources.

The key drivers for a new model are: building stronger relationships with and between individuals and communities, increasing co-production of better outcomes by focusing on capacity, as well as need, and changing expectations and behaviours.  Before we can deliver these benefits we will need to change the way we think, plan and act.  There are many good, small scale examples of innovation which are delivering real change but now we need to scale up change to have a real impact – reducing dependency, building confidence and improving outcomes.  These are not quick fixes, so the sooner we start and the more energy we invest the sooner we’ll be able to achieve a sustainable relationship between public services and the communities they serve.

 

This blog post summarises some of the key messages in:

Why do we need a new model for public services? By Catherine Staite

Ch. 1 in Staite, C. (ed.)(2013). Making sense of the future: can we develop a new model for public services? (Birmingham: University of Birmingham/INLOGOV).

Catherine Staite

Catherine Staite is the Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.

Local elections: challenges and opportunities for new administrations

Catherine Staite

Following the elections, both new and continuing local authority administrations, of all political hues, will face significant challenges. The ‘irresistible force’ of increased demand is meeting the ‘immovable object’ of financial stringency, creating an annual cycle of despair, where councils struggle to do ‘more for less’ – something which becomes progressively hard to achieve. Many will manage to balance their books till 2014 but face a financial cliff edge thereafter.

These apparently irreconcilable pressures may actually be the saving of local government by creating pressure for change – if it can reimagine and reinvent itself. What local government need to do in response to these challenges is less important than how it needs to be.

Councils are moving to commissioning from direct delivery, to supporting independence rather than dependence and to better understanding of the capacity of communities to improve their own lives. Local authorities are good at working in partnership – with health, the police, education and business. They need to get three other key relationships right; with the communities they serve, with each other and with central government.

Local authorities need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the diverse and complex capacities and needs of their communities. Engagement should be woven into the fabric of local government. There is a wealth of evidence that shows people do know and care about their local services. Without this public support no real transformation of local areas and services will be possible. The relationship between local authorities and their communities should therefore be less benefactor-to-beneficiary and more partner-to-partner – underpinned by mutual respect.

Many local authorities already work collaboratively to bring down costs and improve quality. This patchwork of ad hoc arrangements is often driven by enthusiastic individuals and is consequently fragile. Cooperation between local authorities is too often constrained by parochialism and soured by old rivalries, too much defending of council’s sovereignty and not enough drive to deliver efficiency and improved outcomes. The experience of successful collaboration tells us it should be the norm and not the exception. Councils will have to explain why they are cutting services or ceasing to invest for the future before doing everything possible to reduce costs and improve outcomes by working together.

The relationship and the balance of power between central and local government generates much debate. We have the most centralised model of government in Western Europe. Central government demonstrates a lack of trust in local government and an abiding reluctance to devolve financial control although they delegate to councils the implementation of their funding cuts. If central government acts like a disapproving parent, local government is likely to act like a recalcitrant child. Neither set of behaviours will deliver the outcomes that the Coalition and local authorities want to achieve for the people they are all are supposed to be serving.

It is time for local government to take the initiative in reshaping their relationship with communities, each other and central government. Local government is remarkably efficient and reliable. Serious service failures are only newsworthy because they are so rare. That competence confers authority and local government needs to get off the back foot, stop waiting for the green light from central government and make the changes needed to meet the challenges of the future.

Catherine Staite

Catherine Staite is the Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.