Social services urged to pre-empt government on regional purchasing

Social services directors have been told they should join together
to develop regional delivery contracts with the voluntary sector.

Some directors believe that taking a proactive approach might
reduce the chances of the government introducing more radical
proposals. They are concerned about how the government might
respond to Sir Peter Gershon’s request for the Department of Health
to consider whether domiciliary services and residential care for
older people could be commissioned on a regional basis (news, page
12, 22 April). Gershon has the task of reviewing public

John Dixon, director of social services at West Sussex, told
directors at last month’s Association of Directors of Social
Services conference that social services could set regional or
national standards on commissioning services from charities. Social
services could approach the nine regional centres of procurement
excellence, launched in February, to develop standardised

These could be applied to areas including specialist disability and
child care services, Dixon added. It would reduce administration
costs for both commissioners and providers and incorporate minimum
service standards.

“We need to show we can achieve some things ourselves rather than
letting the government impose something worse,” explained Dixon.

“The major disability charities are bending the minister’s ear and
if we do something relatively straight forward like this I think we
could head-off some of the crazier ideas.”

He said directors should engage the major voluntary organisations
initially to identify the variety of contracts currently being

The nine regional centres of procurement excellence, which are run
by local authorities, were set up by the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister with the aim of ensuring councils spend budgets
efficiently. They look at the commissioning of all councils’ core

The Gershon proposals could see service fees and tendering
processes set regionally, doing away with the current variations in
the system. But critics say this would lead to larger national
providers dominating the care markets and increasing costs.

Mencap chief executive Jo Williams welcomed the opportunity for the
voluntary sector to share its knowledge with local authorities. “We
waste a lot of time negotiating with service commissioners and
there are resources being diverted into that, rather than direct
provision,” she added.

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