Details for staff, visitors and inmates
Tweet Focus on contract not on service users his is the third in a series of posts on the challenges of modern commissioning stimulated by a recent report from the Reform think tank called “Markets for good: the Next Generation of public service reform”. It focuses on the lack of sufficient choice or “customer” focus of current public services. The report authors argue that the current commissioning system rarely rewards providers for good customer service. Typically, contracts are tightly specified – so it is no surprise that many services are designed to deliver the outputs specified in the contract rather than what the user needs. This can lead to a complex, uncaring or insensitive service which is not just unpleasant but ineffective. The public services with which I’m most concerned, those working with offenders and drug and alcohol users, seek to change behaviour; therefore building a rapport and engaging with the service user is critical. If people dislike service, there are likely to seek it out or cooperate with its aims. Talk to any jobseeker who’s been required to attend an employment programme in the last 10 years, and many of them will tell you that they are forced to engage in the same rota of activities, irrespective of their individual needs. This post focuses on two reasons why public services are so often like this: it’s hard for new providers to enter the market and providers are chosen by bureaucratic processes, not true market competition. It’s hard to enter the market lthough there is a much more mixed economy in terms of the providers of public services now with large numbers of private and voluntary sector involvement, there’s still very little choice for service users. It remains very difficult for smaller or new providers to enter the market. Most of the time, the market is not open. Providers can only get into the market at a single entry point – when contracts are awarded. Then the market is normally closed again for the duration of the contract cycle. Providers often face no, or little, competition once they’ve won the bid. The successful bidder usually has a local, regional or even national monopoly for the duration of the contract. This leads to the situation where bidders promise to deliver an exciting, innovative, effective and inexpensive service in the bidding process but are then free to operate as they wish, provided that they meet contract outputs. In real markets, as soon as a service fails to meet customers’ needs, they move to a competitor – witness the problems experienced by Marks & Spencer over recent years. It will be interesting to see how much innovation and “customer focus” there is in the new Community Rehabilitation Companies who will deliver probation services from 1st February. The bid process is almost always lengthy, complex and expensive. National competitions such as Transforming Rehabilitation or the Work Programme involve teams of dozens of people working on their bids from months on end. This is incredibly expensive and means that medium or smaller providers are often not able to compete. It’s also expensive for the government as the bidders have to find this money from somewhere and, inevitably, it has to come out of one public contract or another. Providers are chosen by bureaucratic processes, not true market competition n obvious failing of the current system is the domination of an overly bureaucratic procurement process in which all the bidders promise to meet a long list of commissioner requirements more of which are more related to financial, human resources and health and safety concerns than to the core service to be delivered. The one criterion which dominates choice in normal markets – actual performance – is typically disregarded, and, in some cases, is actually excluded from consideration. The recent Transforming Rehabilitation competition is a case in point where some of the winning bidders openly traded on the fact that they had no experience of criminal justice work and were therefore not tainted in the same way as Serco and G4S who were disqualified from the competition because of failings in other justice contracts. Conclusion he upshot of this approach is that governments end up with a very limited choice of providers. This then creates the problem of a provider who is ‘too big to fail’. If a provider under-performs, the government may not be able to remove them due to the difficulty of replacing lost capacity, undermining the threat of sanctions written into contracts. Again, this is an obvious contrast with real markets were companies which fail to meet customer need suffer, irrespective of size. In the grocery market, even Tesco is not too big to fail. Reform’s argument is that proper consumer choice in public markets would result in proper markets with the best providers gaining a larger market share, and the worst going out of business.
Tweet We still commission according to administrative silos his is the second in a series of posts on the challenges of modern commissioning stimulated by a recent report from the Reform think tank called “Markets for good: the Next Generation of public service reform”. Perhaps the single most intransigent difficulty in commissioning has been the difficulty to move towards a joined up system. People have been talking about doing away with commissioning silos for years, but, so far, with little result. There is a general consensus that most offenders or people with addictions face multiple problems which interlock and reinforce each other. Readers will have seen many examples of the sorts of graphic below used in the Reform report to illustrate this: The report argues that: Despite the many structures and forums in place designed to coordinate service delivery, experience shows that the reality is more likely to be “duplication, muddled diagnosis, poor sequencing, cost shunting, agency sabotage and unnecessary join up bureaucracy”. Duplication his is a description that I recognise only too well from my work evaluating multiagency partnerships. Duplication in particular has proved very difficult to tackle. It’s easy to think of many examples where a number of different agencies all have a case management system with the same individual service user at the centre of it. It’s not that the work isn’t coordinated, it’s that it is coordinated too many times, by too many agencies. What looks like a clear referral/allocation/case management system on a PowerPoint slide often makes much less sense to the individual receiving the services. Muddled diagnosis nevitably, individual agencies focus on their own sphere of operation – offending, substance misuse, worklessness, accommodation etc. – which means that although often as many as half a dozen workers have detailed understanding of parts of an individual’s life, no one agency has a clear picture of the whole. Sequencing term very well known to probation staff, sequencing is about offering the right help in the right order. While everyone knows that an individual is unlikely to make progress in coming off drugs before they have settled accommodation, at the same time individual workers in different agencies all have their own targets to achieve and it’s often not bureaucratically possible to say I’m going to keep this case but not work actively on it until the person has got somewhere safe to live. Cost shunting particularly damaging consequence of side load commissioning is “cost shunting”. This is when one government department does something they know will add cost to another department, but goes ahead anyway because those costs don’t fall within their budget. The example that Reform gives is the closure of youth provision by many councils struggling with reduced budgets which, almost inevitably, needs to more youth crime and additional costs for the police, courts probation (and eventually) prison services. Agency sabotage highly topical issue is what Reform refer to as “agency sabotage”. They define sabotage as occurring when government pays providers to complete a certain task but this requires the assistance of other agencies or providers. A prime example of this is the government’s radical overhaul of the probation service – “Transforming Rehabilitation” – where new (mainly private) providers will require the active cooperation of a wide range of other agencies such as drug treatment providers etc. to reduce reoffending. Some of the new providers have already stated that they do not wish to spend any of their contract revenue on this provision but expect other agencies to provide high quality services to offenders without any additional incentives. Join up bureaucracy he Reform report criticises (quite fairly in my view) the number of structures designed to ensure multi-agency coordination. Although this might seem a contradiction, it’s clear to many middle managers who spend a large proportion of their working lives in multi-agency meetings that, despite the best of intentions, the amount of integration is strictly limited. It is rare for a cross-department approach to be truly coordinated when budgets are held separately and individual agencies are required to prioritise their own agency targets. Conclusion oined up commissioning has become a bit of a Holy Grail for policy experts. Everyone agrees that on its value in principle but very few have made much progress towards it. Without pooled budgets it’s hard for even committed leaders to sustain progress. There was a period in time when some Drug Action Teams were starting to make a difference but DATs themselves are now largely defunct. MAPPA structures appear to function well and largely achieve their purpose in co-ordinating a large number of agencies to manage high risk offenders. However, this is a rare example and it should be remembered that MAPPAs work with relatively small numbers of offenders, agency roles are clearly defined and they benefit from a high level of resources. Reform’s solution to joining up commissioning is in a radical new approach to public service markets to which I will return in a later post. If any readers have good examples of co-ordinated commissioning, please share them via the comment section below.