Remarkable commissioning decision from the DfE

An evaluation (pdf) on the outsourcing of some parts of children’s services ran to 224 pages – a number which says something about the complexity of public services and how they are arranged.

At the time I tweeted the following associated observations:

Since then, the Department for Education has said it will limit such outsourcing opportunities to not-for-profit providers only. Labour is also making very similar noises with regard to DWP’s Work Programme.

If true, this is remarkable.

As others have pointed out, previous governments have said they would do something similar and that this hasn’t always happened (see here and here). But I don’t think I recall a central government department so clearly saying it will specify what type of organisation will provide a service at this sort of scale.

It offers up all sorts of interesting implications as well.

By “interesting”, I of course mean someone has put a can of worms in a hornet’s nest and each of the worms is about to open their very own Pandora’s Box.

Here are a few quick thoughts:

  • How, exactly, can government effect this? We often hear about procurement rules and regulations that ensure “open and fair” competition for public services, so what magical levers will government now use or create?
  • Even if central government figures it out, how will they support their local government commissioning and procurement colleagues to put nearly 30 years of risk-averse, process-led ‘commissioning’ behind them?
  • What, exactly, is a not-for-profit organisation?
  • How long will it be before for-profit providers (G4S, Serco, A4E etc.) issue legal challenges about unfair competition rules?
  • If such limitations can be imposed in children’s services, why not in health services, social care and employment provision? We knew there was never any overarching strategy to public service reform from the coalition (whatever their Open Public Services White Paper said) but DfE’s move, being so completely at odds with what the NHS and DWP are currently doing through their own reforms, drives a coach and horses through the space any strategy might have existed.

It’s very exciting for people like me who have gone on about how existing commissioning levers can be used to level the playing field for smaller, particularly voluntary sector organisations. Admittedly, people like me tend to need to get out more, but we’re in for some fun and games if DfE and/or Labour really try to do what they say they will.


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

4 thoughts on “Remarkable commissioning decision from the DfE”

  1. Rich,

    Thank you for highlighting this, and the potential opportunities.
    Person centred policies, combined with co production and open minds, can help DfE and others. There is also potential for placing resources with communities and local places.
    Do you think there is scope for Commissioners to engage with CICs, SEs and Charities ?
    Is there evidence of forward plans for this ?

    Mydex CIC

    1. I think for this policy to be successful commissioners have to engage with all of those types of organisations; indeed, it’s what they were supposed to have been doing anyway!

      As for forward plans, I’m not sure. DfE’s response (linked to in the Community Care article itself linked to above) may have more detail.

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