Commissioning Childrens Services
A report published on 9 August by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, has found that local authorities are not always considering the voluntary and community sector, charities, or other arms of the public sector, when commissioning services for young people. The report states ‘Alternative approaches were not always being considered and poorly informed views among local authorities and providers about the potential of competitors to provide an improved service remained unchallenged. Insufficient consideration had been given to engaging alternative providers from the voluntary and community sector, charities, or other arms of the public sector such as social landlords. Only three local authorities had worked collaboratively with neighbouring authorities to carry out joint commissioning.’ No surprise there then. Ofsted however fails to mention the private sector in the supply mix, which is perverse. A 2006 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the Children’s Services markets, commissioned by the last Government, reached pretty similar conclusions, recommending a fundamental re-think on local commissioning and the removal of barriers to allow in new suppliers, from private and not for profit sectors, noting that some authorities were better at pursuing value for money than others. However, there was no fundamental change to the approach to LA commissioning practice in the wake of that report. The Government will have to think about how this might impact on their proposals in the White Paper on Opening Public Services which anticipates a more diversified supply market, with more accountability and better access to information.
And if Local Authorities are not considering alternative providers, then what hope is there for the Big Society?