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Practical challenges in commissioning faced by providers

Report | January 2010

This paper describes a short study carried out by IPC with a medium-sized, London-based charity providing support services to vulnerable children, young people and their families. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of the emerging commissioning culture on voluntary sector providers delivering services mainly via local authority contracts.

Acknowledging that legislation and accompanying guidance from government have set out desirable aspirations for children and family services, the paper notes that new commissioning arrangements in support of these aspirations have, in practice, often had unintended negative consequences for providers.

As an investigation into the difficulties faced by such organisations, the study described sets out to test four hypotheses:

  • That the costs involved in bidding for contracts, and subsequently monitoring their performance, are prohibitive for small and medium sized providers and militate against value for money delivery.
  • That the bid management infrastructure necessary to deal successfully with local authority tendering processes is disproportionately burdensome for the voluntary sector.
  • That emerging procurement arrangements, especially outcomes-based contracting, are often poorly understood and therefore poorly applied in practice by commissioners.
  • That existing evidence of what works in children`s services is too frequently ignored in constructing service specifications.

The study described is based on an examination of four recent successful tenders of the charity`s choosing and interviewing staff involved with each to elicit their responses to the hypotheses set out above.

Findings from the interviews, supported by illustrative quotations from staff, bear out each of the four hypotheses. While emphasising the limitations of the study`s scale and terms, the paper sets out wider implications for successful commissioning, and identifies avenues for future research.

For further information please contact Nicolette Rattle at IPC


Tel: 01225 484088