Enabling #dpulo contributions through commissioning

I’m very sorry for being late on this post – time has just got the better of me.

Nevertheless, I’m attending a meeting tomorrow where we’ll be talking about how Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations can be better served in commissioning / tendering / procurement processes, and what some of the barriers to this are.

Fortunately, this is the start of a conversation rather than the end of one, so I’ll be coming back to people with further requests for input etc. over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, below are thoughts on key facilitators that are under the control of commissioners to positively shape and create such a level playing field for DPULOs at:

  • A strategic (commissioning-based) level
  • A more practical (procurement-based) level

I’ve also included information on the truly brilliant bit of EU legislation known as Article 19.

However, we start with feedback from very kind people who contributed thoughts via various social media outlets:

Initial ideas from people off Twitter and beyond

  • Longer lead in times for commissioning
  • Easier application process
  • DPULO tendering and commissioning network with range of skill-specific consortia
  • Allow for core funding. Permit core funding in budget guidelines
  • Representative support and help for DPULOs
  • A national protocol for commissioners when working with disabled people’s organisations
  • Remove restrictive financial penalties e.g large bonds, non-performance penalties & difficult payment structures
  • Reduce red tape (or at least make it proportionate)
  • Include social value tests to balance Value for Money criteria e.g. involvement of ‘client and customer group’ in governance and staffing of the organisation. (Or, at least, have suitable balance between the two in tender specifications)

A more general point that a few people made about commissioning was that involving users at every step of the way through coproduction should be fundamental to the process; indeed, some suggested it should be compulsory.

Facilitators at a commissioning level

Commissioners can develop and implement policies that:

  • Stimulate the participation of public service users by encouraging the development of local groups and promoting the use of voluntary sector infrastructure resources to include and benefit service user groups
  • Work in dynamic partnership with individuals, communities and their representatives – such as DPULOs – to define, develop and deliver high quality services
  • Foster a level playing field for user-led and carer’s organisations to compete in any tendering process
  • Look to commission specifically from local providers
  • Look to commission specifically from voluntary sector providers
  • Recognise the added value that DPULOs can offer
  • Recognise the wider role of DPULOs when carrying out their duty to promote disabled people’s equality especially in drawing up and implementing local equality plans
  • Ensure support enables Independent Living and embodies the ethos of choice, control and for all people to participate as equal citizens in society
  • Ensure that local contracting procedures do not discriminate unfairly against small / new / DPULOs
  • Offer Contracts, not Service Level Agreements, in order to give potential DPULO providers flexibility over service delivery
  • Offer 3- or 5-year funding arrangements, rather than year on year, to support service improvement and provider stability.

Article 19 and reserving contracts

Article 19 regulations of the Procurement Directive 2004/18/EC form a part of European legislation that allows organisations to reserve public contracts for supported businesses, meaning it is permitted to invite only supported businesses to bid for the work.  A supported business employs disabled people as over 50% of its workforce. For contracts under £144k, it is therefore allowable to simply invite a supported business – such as a local DPULO – to bid for a contract or offer them the chance to match the best price.

Awareness of Article 19 is very low, so sharing information about it and ensuring commissioners are aware of it would be very useful. (More info on it is available here and here).

Facilitators at a procurement level

There are a number of practical things procurement teams can do to ensure procurement processes do not adversely impact DPULOs. These are as follows:

  • Ensure DPULOs are given adequate time to respond to tenders
  • Consider using a restricted or selective tender list, or a ‘single source’ approach to target organisations controlled by users (particularly in cases of extending existing arrangements)
  • Ensure DPULOs are specifically made aware of potential services particularly noted under the areas they typically work in (i.e. Information and advice, Advocacy and peer support, Support in using Direct Payments (e.g. Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG), payroll, brokerage, support planning, Disability equality training, Support for the implementation of the Disability Equality Duty)
  • Ensure organisations who have not bid for contracts before are particularly aware of new opportunities
  • Ensure procurement portals are accessible
  • Ensure tender documents are accessible and proportionate to the contract in question
  • Ensure that the value for money components of the specification take account of the added value often contributed by local organisations representing potentially eligible users. This should particularly be the case in tender marking scheme (where such components of ‘added value’ typically form only 5% of judging criteria)
  • Recognise framework arrangements so that large and smaller organisations can submit joint tenders. Larger organisations may be able to bring economies of scale to the contract while smaller organisations may be better placed to provide specialist services.
  • Observe good practice during the application process through ensuring:
    • Each tender pack contains an evaluation and a complaints form
    • That tender packs are available in a range of accessible formats
    • Guidance documents are provided that cover equal opportunities, partnership working and how to complete the application form
    • All materials relating to a specific tender process are in one place and easy to access
    • Monitoring systems are in place to record the number of smaller organisations bidding for and securing contracts.

To support the development of an inclusive commissioning approach as set out above, commissioners should be encouraged to consider the following to shape their commissioning policy in the first place:

  • Commissioning training from local organisations for commissioners themselves
  • Employing or engaging commissioning experts from the voluntary sector or local SMEs to provide specialist advice and feedback on relevant strategies
  • Mainstream equality and access issues through the commissioning cycle
  • Work with DPULOs to decide how best to commission local support services. Whatever model is developed, the involvement of service users and carers in the design and delivery of services is of vital importance and will encourage better quality support services.

All further thoughts and comments gratefully received.

(Note: The above has been developed and extended from work I’ve done with Social Care Institute for Excellent and research in practice for adults.)


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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