Murky complications of commissioning

A can of worms in a hornet’s nest and each of the worms is about to open their very own Pandora’s Box.

This was what I thought when the DfE said it would limit outsourcing opportunities for the delivery of children’s services to not-for-profit providers only.

Since then, it’s become clear that the regulations to effect this may be murkier than some people expected:

[R]egulations will not prevent an otherwise profit-making company from setting up a separate non-profit making subsidiary to enable them to undertake such functions.

On the other side of the coin, Labour are saying they will reserve public service contracts for social enterprises using new EU procurement laws and the principles Social Value Act of 2013.

But both of these scenarios are actually the same: the use (and abuse) of commissioning and procurement to reach a desired outcome. (See Toby Blume’s excellent posts on the Big Society Network and the National Citizen Service to see two recent examples.)

I’m afraid that, as commissioning and procurement currently work, anything that’s done to specify a certain type of provider to provide a service can be used (exploited?) to get exactly the opposite type of provider to provide the same service.

If you want a “not-for-profit” company to deliver a service, it’s perfectly possible for a private company to establish appropriate governance arrangements to appear as a “not-for-profit”. Similarly, it’s perfectly possible for a “not-for-profit” organisation to have governance arrangements such that it has a “for-profit” trading arm. These options don’t even include the extra dimensions social enterprises add, with their “for-profit” / social purpose duality. (And, whilst we’re at it, what, actually, is “profit”?)

Commissioning and procurement is a murky business.

For me, there are two real issues raised by all of this.

The first is that the “public is good, private is bad” dichotomy is truly unhelpful when it comes to debating how best to deliver public services. I mean, Julian Le Grand was exploring knights and knaves (pdf) back in 1995, quite aside from the amount of literature that work was built on and which has been written since

The second is that commissioning and procurement are processes that are driven by humans. As soon as you introduce human agency into a process it doesn’t matter how well the rules are written: the pesky human will find a way of using those rules to suit the ends they desire.

The primary issue, therefore, is understanding what is motivating people to act as they are. Questions of public/private providers and commissioning and procurement rules are secondary.






Are disability campaigners right to criticise Scope?

A “head to head” debate between disability campaigners and a representative of the disability charity, Scope, was published in the Guardian yesterday.

The key point made by disability campaigners, represented by DPAC and Allfie, was that Scope cannot be thought an ally of disabled people because it continues to run ‘segregated’ settings like residential homes and special schools. Scope’s main response is that they are trying to make independent living a reality, but that it can’t happen overnight.

Who is right?

The problem is, things in this world are rarely clear-cut.

For example, DPAC itself vehemently argued that Remploy – a segregated work environment for disabled people – shouldn’t have its subsidy removed by the government. Similarly, Allfie was a partner with Scope in the excellent Disability LIB alliance, which supported over 200 Disabled People’s Organisations between 2007-11.

And where shades of grey exist on the ‘side’ of disability campaigners, so the same goes for what the focus of Scope’s work has been.

Below is a table which highlights particular areas of expenditure from Scope’s 2008/09 and 2012/13 financial accounts respectively.

Area of cost Amount spent (£000s) – 2008/09 (p34) Amount spent (£000s) – 2012/13 (pp32-33)
Fundraising 5,678 (5.7% of total costs) 8,524 (8.2% of total costs)
Charity shop costs 24,411 (24.8%) 22,569 (21.8%)
Residential services for adults 22,863 (23.2%) 22,923 (22.2%)
Education Services 21,304 (21.7%) 21,697 (21.0%)
Campaigning and capacity building 5,290 (5.4%) 2,652 (2.6%)
Total costs 98,299 103,310

What this table shows is that the amount that Scope has spent on its residential services for adults has decreased by1% in that 4-year period – from 23.2% of all its expenditure in 2008/09 to 22.2% in 2012/13. Similarly, its spend on education services has decreased by 0.7% over the same period and now constitutes some 21.0% of all of Scope’s spend. Traditional charitable activities – including fundraising, running charity shops and providing services – made up just over 75% of Scope’s activities in 2008/09 and 73.2% in 2012/13.

At the same time, though, spend on “campaigning and capacity building” dropped from 5.4% of expenditure to 2.6% – a reduction of  £2.64m, but still leaving £2.65m spent on such activities.

The answer to the question of this post’s title, then, is: “Yes and no”.

Disability campaigners are right to criticise Scope because such a large part of their expenditure is on traditional activities that reflect a segregated model, and their spend on campaigning and capacity building is around half what it was 4 years ago.

But there have been small decreases in the proportion of money Scope has spent in its more traditional activities. Furthermore, the arguments and actions of DPAC and Allfie would suggest it’s not always clear what is the ‘right’ type of segregation and when is the right time work in partnership with big disability charities and when isn’t.

Where does this leave us? For me, it shows that focusing on common goals and the contributions that everyone and every organisation can make is the best thing to do. Fighting or criticising each other – as tempting and as easy as it can be (and I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself) – probably won’t help in the long run.

The impact of advocacy – call for evidence

In my new work role at the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) (and on which more blogging goodness to come soon),  I’m getting right into it with a really interesting piece of work about advocacy and evidence of its impact.

We’re not looking directly at creating new evidence about advocacy: we’re looking to gather and review the evidence that’s already available about the impact of different types of advocacy for people who need support.

What we want to do is:

  • Help to understand the impact of advocacy, and the benefits of investing in it against a range of different factors and outcomes
  • Describe this in relation to different forms and types of advocacy to help inform decisions about what type of advocacy to invest in for which purpose
  • Focus on gathering evidence of economic and financial impact (if such evidence exists), in order to help inform investment decisions in the current financial context.

The purpose of the work is to present the evidence that exists about advocacy in a more comprehensive and robust way than currently exists. It will also help provide evidence for organisations who deliver advocacy services about their existing and potential impact.

Full details of the work we’re doing is available here: the impact of advocacy for people who need support. If you know of evidence that could be useful as part of this review, please do get in touch using the comments below or via Twitter – @rich_w

The most useful resources on commissioning and procurement

Commissioning, procurement and how accessible public sector contract opportunities are to voluntary sector organisations will always be a considerable issue. It’s one that isn’t short of people’s time, thoughts and efforts – either in the past, present or future.

Such efforts tend to fall into one of 3 categories:

  1. Resources that support voluntary sector organisations to be better at responding to procurement / tendering opportunities (toolkits, masterclasses, training courses etc.)
  2. Resources that support commissioners to make procurement and tendering more accessible for voluntary sector organisations (example policies, legislative or regulatory incentives etc.)
  3. Examples of where efforts have worked in practice (case studies, events etc.)

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say there are hundreds of publications dedicated to this topic. This post very briefly notes some of the most useful resources on commissioning and procurement that already exist or are on their way in each of the above, particularly for disabled people’s user-led organisations.

Resources that support voluntary sector organisations / DPULOs

Resources that support commissioners

Practical case studies

By definition, this post hasn’t tried to capture all resources on commissioning and procurement. However, if there are particularly good resources that aren’t included in the above please do let me know in the comments below or via Twitter (@rich_w).

Shopmobility Lochaber’s experience of implementing PQASSO #dpulo

PQASSO is a quality assurance system that many Voluntary & Community Sector organisations – including DPULOs – think about. Below, Shopmobility Lochaber – a DPULO based in Inverness-shire, Scotland – share their detailed experiences of obtaining PQASSO.

Sharing DASH’s journey (#dpulo)

It’s always great to hear about the difference the Facilitation Fund has made to a DPULO. Below, the Disablement Association Hillingdon – DASH – share what they’ve done through their Facilitation Fund award. Thanks to Angela Wegener for sending this to us.

Our award through the Facilitation Fund has led us on a journey that has opened up a number of opportunities for DASH as an organisation and its service users.

This award enabled us to set up a retail arm as Accredited Retailers for the Transforming Community Equipment Service, raising a small income by dispensing prescriptions and selling small aids and adaptations.

At the same time as this service was set up, our successful three year Transitions Project was coming to an end. This project had provided support for young people with a disability aged 16-25. The knowledge gained from this project had shown us that there was a real need to provide supported work experience placements for young people with disabilities, who when they leave college do not have any opportunity to gain experience and find employment.

Working with Hillingdon Adult Education we set up a small pilot project to trial work experience placements for a small number of their students who were on an ALDD course, giving them the opportunity to experience retail work at our office, in a supportive environment. This pilot was so successful that we decided to apply for funding from the Cadburys Foundation to enable us to continue to run it. This funding was granted, enabling us to employ a member of staff to oversee our new work experience programme.

This project has gone from strength to strength; we now work in partnership with property agents Knight Frank who kindly provide property maintenance work experience placements in their local office complex, Hyde Park Hayes, for young people once they have completed an initial six week assessment here with us. We are hoping that this will expand in the New Year to provide opportunities in working in their reception.

A number of young people have also been able to gain a Level 1 FA coaching qualification in football, and will be volunteering in local schools assisting at lunch time and after school clubs. It is hoped that in the future they will be paid a sessional fee for this.

We are also exploring the possibility of putting in a joint bid for funding with Hillingdon Adult Education, which will enable us to provide work experience placements at our local Rural Activities Garden Centre in their new café and shop.

You can find out more about DASH on their website here:

Report from Wiltshire CIL on ILF consultation

This is a good report on the work done by Wiltshire CIL – a DPULO in the South West – on the Independent Living Fund. This is a great example of the support a DPULO provides people, as well as how they can help represent people’s views on different issues.

#DPULO Young Ambassadors – nominations now open

One of the things the Strengthening DPULOs Programme thinks a lot about is the leadership of DPULOs, both today and in the future. Following many suggestions along the same lines we’ve had over the last few months, I’m delighted to say we’re looking to recruit six young DPULO Ambassadors. This is one part of how we can encourage more people to get involved in DPULOs, particularly thinking about young disabled people who will go on to become the DPULO (and other) leaders of the future.

To build on the success of the Disabled People’s User Led Organisation (DPULO) Programme and continue helping DPULOs to become stronger more sustainable organisations, the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey MP, is keen for DPULOs and young disabled people to work together more closely and forge stronger links.

To take this forward the Minister would like to appoint six Young DPULO Ambassadors (aged 16-24 yrs) to work with DPULOs and our existing Ambassadors.

All of the details you’ll need are in the document below. If you are a young disabled person who might be interested in this, know someone who might be interested, or your organisation’s work involves young disabled people, please pass this information on!

If you have any questions, or completed nominations, these should be sent to:

#dpulo Disability Cornwall awarded Investors in People gold status

This is great news: Disability Cornwall has been awarded the gold status for Investors in People. It’s particularly good news because it’s an award that any business or organisation would recognise, and shows the standard that DPULOs often operate at.

Below is the full press release from Disability Cornwall about their award. Congratulations to them on their achievement.

Disability Cornwall staff, Directors and volunteers celebrated their achievement on being awarded the highly prestigious Investors in People – Gold Standard by wearing gold at a special Away Day event held at Tregenna Castle on Friday.

Following a rigorous assessment that included lengthy interviews with all staff, Disability Cornwall now joins the top 3 of organisations across the UK who have achieved the GOLD standard. This standard is only given to organisations who can demonstrate excellence in developing and supporting their staff, and the charity needed to meet more than 165 evidence requirement standards that included commitment to values, personal development and social responsibility.

Chief Executive, Jane Johnson commented:

We are absolutely delighted to receive this extremely prestigious award. This is a fantastic result and the Assessor, Carolyn Inger was most complimentary in her feedback, stating the staff she met were some of the most committed, passionate and truly nice people she has ever had the pleasure of talking to, and that their attitude and competence, in her experience is second to none. It’s a great acknowledgement for the quality and personal commitment of staff and Directors to the continuous improvement of both themselves, our organisation, and the people we are here to support. It is said that if you get the right people in business the rest will follow.

Carolyn Inger, Investor in People Assessor working on behalf of Inspiring Business Performance LTD added:

Disability Cornwall has a totally positive culture, a real family feel, exceptional team working and true consideration for people as people. This combined with high skill levels, knowledge and experience of staff who feel really valued, as they make a difference to the lives of disabled people, generates not only a passion and buzz for the work undertaken, but also a highly successful organisation which has gone from strength to strength over the last few years.

Disability Cornwall is the leading pan disability organisation with a mission to facilitate a fully inclusive society in Cornwall through empowering disabled people to achieve independence, choice and control. In addition to being a representative body for equality, they provide a range of services including the Disability Information and Advice Line (DIAL) supporting more than 3000 people per year alone and Discover magazine, a disability lifestyle publication, in addition to a range of support services for personal budgets and for businesses, including access auditing, consultation and training.

You can find out more about Disability Cornwall here:

Strengthening DPULOs Programme monthly bulletin, no. 10 (end of year edition) #dpulo

This is the tenth monthly update about the Strengthening DPULOs Programme. This is also the last update of 2012, so rather than the usual mix of links and stories (which will begin again in January) I thought it would be useful to reflect on where the DPULOs agenda has got to.

2012: a year for DPULOs?

At the start of the year I suggested 2012 could be the year for DPULOs. There were 3 reasons for this view:

  1. There was a detectable shift towards leveling the playing field for different types of providers in public services
  2. There was proof that DPULOs could be clear about the value they add in representing disabled people’s voices locally
  3. The evidence for the difference DPULOs make was starting to come through, and stakeholders were starting to take note.

What we’ve seen over the last 12 months is further evidence for each of the points above. For example:

  1. DPULOs, social enterprises and mutuals are starting to be treated differently – and for the better – in the way public services are commissioned. Liverpool is one good example and we’ll have more in the New Year
  2. There is now significant evidence of the difference the voice of disabled people in their local communities, represented through DPULOs can make. This isn’t just in saving money (though that’s important), but also in the improvements in people’s quality of life. Just look at the evidence here.
  3. There is also now much more evidence than there’s ever been of the unique value DPULOs add when they deliver local services. They increase choice and control. They’re trusted more. They deliver a return on investment. And they save money. The evidence is here.

As a result, there’s been a major shift in thinking: the question I used to be asked all the time was “What is a DPULO?” Now, the question I am asked is “Now I know the difference they can make, how can I get the most out of one in my local area?”

Government has taken note, too: where DPULOs used to be thought of mainly in terms of social care, now they are reflected in several areas of policy:

  • In the ODI’s Fulfilling Potential documents and Right to Control Trailblazers
  • In the Home Office’s Hate Crime Action Plan
  • In the DWP’s drive to increase take up of Access to Work
  • In the DfE’s new approach to SEN and disability
  • In DCLG’s Community Budgets work
  • In the Cabinet Office’s Open Public Services White Paper
  • (A full list is here)

Not only this, but the Strengthening DPULOs Programme has provided over £1m of funding through the Facilitation Fund to enhance the sustainability of DPULOs (see here) .

And we’re thinking ahead to the future, too: whilst keeping on with the good stuff we’ve been doing, we’ll be getting new work going  in areas such as:

  • Examples of DPULOs working well with commissioners
  • DPULOs and Making It Real in social care
  • DPULOs and local Healthwatch
  • DPULOs and young disabled people
  • DPULOs, social media and accessible engagement
  • DPULOs and fundraising
  • Mapping the DPULO sector
  • Further evidence on the return on investment DPULOs deliver.

What about 2013?

Despite all of the positives of 2012, it has of course been an incredibly challenging year. DPULOs have not been immune from this, partly because of the significant challenges that disabled people themselves have faced and will continue to face.

And we know that circumstances facing DPULOs are likely to be just as hard, if not harder, into the future as local government and others also face a tough time.

But I am optimistic. As Baroness Campbell said:

Disabled people are the best problem solvers.

In a year that will see lots of problems for lots of different people and organisations, what better people and organisations to have working with you than disabled people and Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations?

Over the festive period, I shall reflect on the incredible work that all of you have done through your DPULOs in your local communities, and think forward to what you will continue to achieve in 2013 and beyond.

I hope you have a restful and relaxing holiday.

Rich Watts

(On behalf of all at the Strengthening DPULOs Programme team)

Find out more about the Programme

To find out more about the Strengthening DPULOs Programme, you can visit our website. We also regularly update our Facebook the page with lots of information you will hopefully find useful, plus news from other DPULOs: If you are on Twitter, you can share information and find out more about DPULOs using the hashtag #dpulo. Please also remember to use the #dpulo hashtag if ever you’re tweeting about your work

You can find all 9 of the previous monthly updates here.

Contact us

For information, biographies, contact details and details of the areas covered by each of the DPULO Ambassadors covers, please visit the Ambassadors page.

If you have any questions about the Facilitation Fund or any part Strengthening DPULOs Programme, please contact

Please feel free to forward this information on to any DPULOs, networks or stakeholders you think might find it interesting.