An internet auction system that allows potential contractors to underbid each other in real time could gain a foothold in the social care market after being pioneered by Edinburgh Council.
Edinburgh saved £500,000 from what had been a £2.9m budget for temporary staff in its care homes for older people by introducing the system, and says it will invest the money back into social care.
Reverse auctions allow service providers to bid for contracts in a system similar to internet auction site eBay, except that the bids become successively lower rather than higher.
Alex Davidson, vice-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Work’s community care standing committee, said the system fitted well with the government’s efficiency agenda.
His council, South Lanarkshire, is in talks with two other authorities about introducing their own version of the scheme.
And Jo Cleary, joint chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services human resources committee, said the approach was interesting and worth looking at further in England as long as quality was maintained.
But National Care Association chief executive Sheila Scott said constantly forcing down the cost of social care would not benefit service users.
And English Community Care Association chief executive Martin Green said authorities should plan for the long term rather than adopt “novelty” approaches.
He said councils should make it a level playing field by allowing service users to enter internet auctions to choose between council-run and independent provision.
Councils have already used reverse e-auctions to buy goods such as stationery and school supplies. A pan-London e-auction in 2005 slashed 20 per cent off the price the capital’s councils paid for stationery.
The Edinburgh contract includes temporary care staff and support staff as well as cleaners and cooks.
Organisations that wished to bid had to comply with evaluation criteria before being allowed to take part in the auction.