Learning from the commissioning support programme

Over the last year we have worked to support ten councils or groups of councils as they develop their approach to commissioning. In each case the exact offer was tailored to suit local circumstances and need.

However the offer included:

  • Research to map the commissioning landscape locally.
  • An action learning programme to facilitate better understanding of the commissioning process.
  • Support to develop better relationships with commissioners in order to help make an impact on a specific local outcome such as health, adult social care or children and young people.

The feedback shows that the raising of awareness and understanding of the commissioning process:

  • Helped staff teams learn about the process and language.
  • Brought people up to the same level of understanding.
  • Facilitated joint working across different services within organisations and identifying where in the organisation more support was required.
  • Achieved high level "buy in" within the council.
  • Improved visibility, recognition and credibility of culture and sport services with commissioners.
  • Achieved clearer focus for service providers.
  • Set the foundations for building new relationships with commissioners.

The programme has facilitated numerous examples of culture and sport improving its positioning against corporate priorities:

  • East Riding: relationships with health and social care are now developing rapidly and the work has been integrated into the wider corporate service transformation programme.
  • NW Renaissance project: the programme enabled the museum services to position themselves in a major neighbourhood focused programme in Ardwick.
  • Leicester City: pursuing a similar approach and piloting joint working at a neighbourhood level with Adult Social Care to explore the opportunities in practice. As a result of the workshop with Children and Young people's Services, Leicester are engaging in the development of the Child Poverty Strategy and in the consultation on the ‘Core offer' for schools.
  • Barking and Dagenham: the programme has enabled positioning to be improved with health and in particular create the focus for a major initiative with local GP services and the development of a citizens' card for older people.
  • Torbay: the programme provided the impetus to reignite a strategic partnership and build relationships with the older people's board.
  • North Lincolnshire: the service is now better positioned with public health, adult social care and children and young people.
  • North Tyneside: there is a stronger relationship with public health and children and young people and a new relationship with adult social care.

All the projects believed there was now significant potential for new income to be generated and some encouraging examples have already emerged.

  • Barking and Dagenham: an additional £0.5 million over two years was secured through a health-related programme and opportunities are under discussion with adult social care to support the personalisation agenda.
  • North Tyneside: negotiated free access for looked after children that they hope will result in a payment in the future. They have also piloted a new ‘charged for' after-school activity programme which they hope to roll out after evaluation and are developing a new health initiative around bowls and older people.
  • East Riding: negotiated two Living Well weight management programmes funded through the PCT.
  • North Lincolnshire: there is hope that new additional programmes to their core service will generate new income.
  • Hull: the programme is supporting the museum education service negotiate potential new programmes.
  • Luton: the Library service is exploring it's response to personalisation by examining:
    • what is core business and we can do for free anytime
    • what is core business and we can do for free but needs to be timetabled
    • what can we do that might need a little additional funding
    • what can we do that might involve additional staff?

Learning from the programme suggested that doing awareness-raising across all the culture and sport services, including engaging senior managers and elected members in the process from the outset, would help to get even better organisational buy-in.

It is important to get the right people at the table at the right time. Involving culture and sport civil society providers and commissioners from the outset would be beneficial to building relationships. This requires senior buy-in from the service management and the corporate management of the council as well as commissioners.

Where service providers have been externalised, involving the trusts and private contractors from the outset would also be beneficial. It is important to understand commissioner needs by listening to them but equally important to have a menu of offers that will meet these needs when dialogue takes place.

Turning better relationships into funding opportunities will depend totally on matching commissioner priorities with evidence of benefit and impact. It is equally important to have access to some practical local examples that have worked on the ground. However, there are real dangers in over simplifying the relationship building process as a "dash for cash" rather than building long-term business relationships.

The main emerging issues and challenges identified were as follows:

  • In many cases progress has been built on good personal relationships, however this alone is not sustainable as such relationships can change particularly in the current turbulence. The challenge is to turn personal relationships into sustainable business relationships.
  • The brokerage role of the council as a strategic commissioner may need to change as fragmentation is created by the localism agenda. Relationships therefore need to be both strategic and local.
  • In the commissioning process roles will change over time and individuals may find themselves playing different roles in different relationships at the same time. The four main roles are that of strategic planner, a partner, a commissioner and a provider and knowing what role you are playing at any moment in time is important.
  • Understanding the language and the governance arrangements relating to each service commissioning processes is the first step to building better relationships.
  • Elected members have an equally important role to play in building these relationships with commissioners.
  • Once providers move into more business orientated relationships the levels of risk will rise significantly.
  • There are personal skills requirements involved in being able to access and influence relationships which may not yet be prevalent at the required levels across the sector and point towards a training and development need in the sector.

The full evaluation report and supporting material including examples of the commissioning mapping process are available below:

Part 1. Main report

Part 2. Detail project reports

Part 3. Examples of commissioning landscape mapping

Strategic commissioning case studies


2 March 2015

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