News and Comment

Asking the right questions for local government commissioning

Thursday 23 September 2010


While much is uncertain about the coalition government’s policies there is undoubtedly a window of opportunity for local government to take the lead relatively unfettered by central and regional government.

The coalition government’s spending review framework published in June invites decision makers in local government to ask the following nine questions:

  1. Is the activity essential to meet government priorities?
  2. Does the government need to fund this activity?
  3. Does the activity provide substantial economic value?
  4. Can the activity be targeted at those most in need?
  5. How can the activity be provided at lower cost?
  6. How can the activity be provided more effectively?
  7. Can the activity be provided by a non-state provider?
  8. Can non-state providers be paid to carry out the activity according to the result they achieve?
  9. Can local bodies as opposed to central government provide the activity?

These are all questions that local strategic commissioners need to ask as part of the changes that will be needed to redesign local systems so that they are less costly and more effective.

Part of this is redefining the relationships between individuals, communities and public services: ‘doing with’ will replace ‘doing unto’; individual budgets and personalisation will replace ‘one size fits all’; and co-production using the support of friends, family and community will replace outmoded universal services. Co-payment by the public as donors to charitable service providers, as well as through individual payments, also offers considerable potential for change.

The commissioning process

Commissioning (understand, plan, do, review) is the process that will ensure (if it is well done) that decisions are the right ones and that agreed changes lead to budget cuts without damaging the services that work best.

It was an unintended consequence of the last government that local systems were left with a plethora of projects, programmes and pilots that are hard for service users to understand, sometimes overlap and are often difficult to manage. Effective commissioning will help you to make the most of public resources.

Ineffective commissioning cuts what is easy to cut with little regard to the evidence of what works and what does not work, does not attempt to make the system as a whole work better and perpetuates expensive, confusing and fragmented systems led by the needs of services and professionals rather than citizens and service users.