Barnardo’s Scotland chief blasts service commissioning

Director of Barnardo's Scotland Martin Crewe is an outspoken critic of the country's approach to commissioning services, reports Gordon Carson

Director of Barnardo’s Scotland Martin Crewe (pictured) is an outspoken critic of the country’s approach to commissioning services, reports Gordon Carson

The flaw in Scotland’s children’s services commissioning is that outcomes are still an afterthought, according to Martin Crewe.

The director of Barnardo’s Scotland says that, while councils and other agencies have focused on achieving common goals in their direct work, when it comes to designing and commissioning services this approach is sadly lacking. It leaves voluntary sector providers with the unenviable task of delivering services that have not been fully thought through.

Crewe, who has held his post since 2007, is in a strong position to gauge standards of commissioning among Scotland’s local authorities, with Barnardo’s Scotland providing 60 services on behalf of councils. Crewe believes providers should be involved early in the design and commissioning pro­cess, even if they do not ultimately win the contract to run the live service.

“Problems start when services are put out to tender,” says Crewe. “All the guidance says there should be lots of consultation but it doesn’t happen.

“Ideally we would have an up-front process of assessment of what’s needed and our biggest plea is that the voluntary sector should be involved at that stage. Our overarching concern is to improve things for children and young people, even if we don’t end up running the service.”

Inconsistency and a lack of clarity about the tendering process also dogs Scotland’s local authorities. Crewe points out that the Scottish government’s guidance for social care procurement, published earlier this year, clarifies that not all services need to be put out to competitive tender. However, if councils do decide to tender, “let’s get the process right”, he says.

“The ideal thing is to tender on the basis of outcomes rather than something very tight that might specify how many staff we will need,” he says.

“There’s also a problem ensuring all the details are provided when the tender goes out, and Tupe [Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment regulations] is an enormous problem. If the service is existing and goes out to tender, the first thing anyone interested will ask is about Tupe implications, but increasingly there’s a reluctance to give that information. Also, the quality criteria for tenders are sometimes a lot less clear than the cost criteria.”

While England is traditionally seen as being more advanced in tendering services, councils in Scotland have shown greater interest in the past few months, perhaps with a view to saving money in a tough financial environment, Crewe adds.

“We are in negotiation with most councils in Scotland and the financial screws are on. If you go down the tendering route, we have to be honest and say one of the potential advantages is to make cost savings.”

Thankfully for providers, the Scottish government procurement guidance says reverse auctions, where prices usually decrease through supplier competition, are not appropriate for social care. Also, Crewe says there are examples of good practice where local authorities have involved providers early in the service design process (see “Glasgow tender success”, below).

However, the negative experiences still outweigh the positive. One tender which Barnardo’s won called for the successful provider to deliver a certain quantity of service, but there was no process in place to push through an adequate amount of referrals for it to operate at capacity. “This reflects that not all considerations took place before the contract was put out to tender,” Crewe says.

Glasgow tender success

A Glasgow Council tender earlier this year for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children’s residential services illustrated the approach Barnardo’s would like more local authorities to adopt.

Although the charity did not have any discussions with the council before the contract opportunity was initially published on 18 January, it was impressed with the structure and timescale of the tender.

Barnardo’s submitted its response two months after the contract opportunity was announced, giving it enough time to talk to specialists and research its proposal. In addition, the submission did not need to be structured around set questions, which enabled the charity to provide detailed evidence of its understanding of the service’s remit.

Glasgow awarded Barnardo’s the contract in August and a unit, able to house five asylum-seeking young people, will open in November.

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This article is published in the 28 October 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Outcomes must be paramount”

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