The main problems with the process were a lack of consultation, a risky and unfavourable market for small and existing providers, and deliberate under-valuing of contracts that will make providing a good quality service impossible for most providers and a confused and inappropriate timescale that necessitated staff redundancies and gaps in service for vulnerable people.
What seems to be missing is trust in communities, service users and service providers to know what works, and planning that puts people at the heart of the process rather than balancing the books.
The main characteristics of the contracting process:
- Unresponsive / Inflexible
- Under budgeting means smallest providers can’t bid
- Not people-centred
- Risky and short-term contracts
- Failure to see the whole context and interdependence of people and organisations
It was developed by the council with no apparent consultation of service providers, related services (Probation, Social landlords, NHS mental health and treatment services and VCS providers of drug, alcohol and family support) or involvement of service users. This suggests a centralisation of control and a lack of trust in the local community, its professionals and the people who need council services most.
The ‘confused’ timescale will cause a lack of continuity between services such as housing support and mental health, with implications for both vulnerable service users, staff losing their job and organisations losing important skills that they will need to re-recruit for. The area will lose people as they look for jobs elsewhere and smaller organisations are even forecast to be put out of business by the redundancy costs they will incur during the hiatus between contracts.
Another concern is that budgets have been knowingly under-costed in order to save money, ‘testing how low the market will go’ meaning new contracts will offer staff less money, and the quality of service provision will be undermined.