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Report: Commissioning support analysis August 2012

Louise Ting, Mark Hubbard and Christine Storry


A NOTE ON THE AUTHORS Louise Ting Louise is a psychology graduate with a keen interest in the voluntary and community sector (VCS). She has a background in research and also volunteers as a health and social care advocate at The Care Forum. Mark Hubbard Mark is the Compact Liaison Officer, based at Voscur. His role focuses on improving relationships between the public sector and the voluntary and community sector (VCS). He works with commissioners – to help make commissioning processes accessible to VCS organisations – and with VCS organisations – to help them engage with commissioning mark@voscur.org Christine Storry Christine is Market Development Manager within the Strategic Commissioning and Procurement Service in Bristol City Council. She has a focus on supporting organisations in respect of commissioning and procurement opportunities within Bristol City Council. christine.storry@bristol.gov.uk Voscur Voscur is an organisation that works to support and develop a thriving, effective and influential voluntary and community sector in Bristol. It is a membership-led organisation with over 500 members, which include social enterprises, community and voluntary sector groups, individuals and public sector agencies. www.voscur.org


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. A survey of commissioning practice in Bristol was undertaken by Voscur, in partnership with Bristol City Council (BCC). The purpose was to gather information about voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations’ experiences of commissioning and contribute to the development of commissioning practice. 2. Survey responses were obtained (February – April 2012) by directly telephoning a random sample of Voscur’s membership. A total of 79 responses were obtained, representing 17% of Voscur’s membership. The methodology was successful and it was noted that respondents were reassured that their responses would be treated confidentially and that their feedback would contribute to commissioning developments. 3. The research focused on commissioning relationships between Bristol City Council and the VCS. It is acknowledged that this builds on other developments (such as BCC’s Select Committee on Third Sector Commissioning) and that it has relevance to other commissioning in the city. Is the survey representative? (Section 2.1) 4. Voscur’s membership is diverse and includes social enterprises, community and voluntary sector groups, individuals and public sector agencies. Some responses to the telephone calls indicate that some types of organisations may have not responded as others. For example, social enterprises sometimes opted to not participate, perhaps for the reason that such organisations are more likely to generate income through trading and other income generation activity. VCS organisations may also be service providers and this report refers to ‘providers’ in the context of commissioning. 5. Most (77%) respondents described their organisation as ‘local’ – meaning Bristolbased. As for the area in which services were provided, most reported that they work throughout Bristol (34%) or the West of England (23%). Organisations and the commissioning of public services (Section 2.3) 6. Most reported that they were aware of BCC’s commissioning procedures, with some 40% reporting a lack of awareness. 67% reported a lack of awareness of the commissioning procedures of other public sector bodies (for example, NHS, criminal justice system). 7. Most (58%) reported that they had knowledge of which BCC departments were responsible for the commissioning of specific services and outcomes. 8. Most (63%) organisations reported that they were already registered on BCC’s eprocurement system. 9. An analysis, however, revealed that there was little correlation between being registered and awareness of commissioning procedures. (Section 2.3.2.1) 10. Of those not registered, most reported lack of awareness as their reason for not registering. Those that described their reason as ‘have not needed to register’ also reported their interest in public service contracts.

Commissioning Support Report. Executive Summary. Page 1


Partnership and consortia development (Section 2.4) 11. Just over half (53%) of the organisations participating in the survey were already working in this way, and most (87%) had considered this option. However, asking for further details on their experiences and perspective of working in a partnership or consortium revealed a significant discrepancy, suggesting that the initial answers may not be accurate. 12. Analysis of the answers to other questions about partnership working indicated that • 50% reported positive experiences • 23% reported that it ‘can be useful if they are open to the idea and get the right support to do it’ • 16% reported that it was ‘a good idea in theory but have concerns and obstacles when putting into practice’ • 9% were negative. 13. Of the difficulties reported, the following themes emerged: • Difficulty in finding appropriate partners • Resources needed to develop and maintain partnerships • Finding balance between working together, managing conflicting interests and preserving own identities. Support and training requirements (Section 2.5) 14. Many respondents reported their need for support in the following specific areas (in order of priority): business skills; understanding the commissioning process; partnership and consortia development; e-procurement systems; TUPE. Improving commissioning relationships (Section 2.6) 15. Organisations were presented with five ways in which commissioning relationships could be improved. The following points indicate the responses to the options presented: • Knowing what contracts are coming up in advance (99%) • Dedicated points of contact (95%) • Meet the buyer type sessions (89%) • Regular forums between BCC and providers/ potential providers (88%) • Improved internet information (87%) 16. Several themes emerged from the many comments about how to improve commissioning relationships. • Information, communication and engagement (Section 2.6.6.1) o Better awareness and keeping up-to-date (by providers) o Better engagement with the provider market o Working together (commissioners and providers) o More and better information • Timings (Section 2.6.6.2) o More realistic timescales o More notice of changes • Size and type of contracts (Section 2.6.6.3) o Smaller contracts o More variety in contracts and more room for innovation • Bristol City Council’s procedures and actions (Section 2.6.6.4) o Dedicated point of contact Commissioning Support Report. Executive Summary. Page 2


o Greater accountability and transparency, and fairness regarding deadlines and following own procedures Quality of Services and Activities (Section 2.7) 17. Less than half of respondents reported that their organisation had, or had started work towards, an official quality mark or standard but it was not uncommon for these organisations to have several accreditations. 18. There was a wide range of quality marks with little overlap between organisations except for PQASSO (4 organisations) and the Legal Services Commission Quality Mark (7 organisations). 19. Respondents reported ‘organisational improvement’ and ‘competitiveness’ as the main reasons for working towards an accredited quality mark. 20. Of those respondents without a formal quality mark, many robust approaches were described for their quality practice with a marked emphasis on service user involvement. Social Value (Section 2.8) 21. Questions were asked about the term ‘social value’ as related to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. 22. Just under half stated that they understood the term. However, when asked how their organisation and its services delivered social value, only 25 respondents (31.6%) were able to articulate its meaning and relevance to their work. Recommendations for commissioners and support organisations (Section 3.1) 23. Provide further support and training on the commissioning process and the promotion of opportunities for VCS organisations to influence commissioning. (Section 3.1.1) 24. Consideration of other training requirements, particularly on developing partnerships, TUPE and business skills. (Section 3.1.2) 25. Provide more support with finding suitable partners. (Section 3.1.3) 26. Improve the information available on the internet, including a guide to jargon. (Section 3.1.4) 27. Develop a Bristol approach to ‘social value’. (Section 3.1.5) Recommendations for commissioners and Bristol City Council (Section 3.2) 28. Improve existing meet the buyer type sessions and regular forums. (Section 3.2.1) 29. Ensure that there is more and better communication from Bristol City Council. (Section 3.2.2) 30. Provide dedicated points of contact. (Section 3.2.3) 31. Further develop and improve commissioning practice. (Section 3.2.4) 32. Work to more realistic timescales. (Section 3.2.5) Commissioning Support Report. Executive Summary. Page 3


33. Break down big contracts where possible. (Section 3.2.6) 34. Ensure that there is a greater variety in contracts and allow room for innovation. (Section 3.2.7) 35. Ensure that there is greater accountability and transparency. (Section 3.2.8) 36. Demonstrate greater awareness of the challenges faced by small organisations. (Section 3.2.9) Recommendations for VCS organisations (Section 3.3) 37. Review ‘commissioning’ in strategic planning processes. (Section 3.3.1) 38. Engage with commissioning processes. (Section 3.3.2) 39. Move towards partnership working. (Section 3.3.3)

Louise Ting, Mark Hubbard and Christine Storry August 2012

Commissioning Support Report. Executive Summary. Page 4


CONTENTS PAGE 1. BACKGROUND

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1.1.

The data collection process and the aims of the survey

1.2.

Commissioning context 1.2.1. Commissioning in Bristol 1.2.2. Bristol City Council and commissioning

2. DETAILED ANALYSIS OF SURVEY RESULTS

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2.1.

Is the survey representative?

2.2.

General information about respondents’ organisations

2.3.

Organisations and the commissioning of public services 2.3.1. Levels of awareness 2.3.1.1. Organisations and Bristol City Council 2.3.1.2. Organisations and other public sector bodies 2.3.1.3. Specific Bristol City Council departments 2.3.2. Registration on BCC’s e-procurement system (Proactis/ Provide to Bristol) 2.3.2.1. Percentage of organisations registered 2.3.2.2. Reasons for not registering

2.4.

Partnership and consortia development 2.4.1. Partnership working in the past, present and future 2.4.2. Perceptions of partnership working 2.4.2.1. The comments in general 2.4.2.2. Specific concerns and difficulties of collaborative working

2.5.

Support and training requirements

2.6.

Improving commissioning relationships 2.6.1. Knowing what contracts are coming up in advance 2.6.2. Meet the buyer type sessions 2.6.3. Improved internet information 2.6.4. Dedicated points of contact 2.6.5. Regular forums between BCC and providers/ potential providers 2.6.6. Comments from organisations regarding the commissioning procedures 2.6.6.1. Information, communication and engagement 2.6.6.2. Timings 2.6.6.3. Size and type of contracts 2.6.6.4. Bristol City Council’s procedures and actions 2.6.6.5. Additional comments

2.7.

Quality of Services and Activities 2.7.1. Official Quality Marks and Standards 2.7.2. Types of Quality Marks 2.7.3. Reasons for achieving (or starting work on) a Quality Mark or Standard 2.7.4. Organisations’ approach to delivering high quality services

Commissioning Support Report. Contents. Page 5


2.8.

Social Value

3. RECOMMENDATIONS

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3.1.

General recommendations 3.1.1. Provide further support and training on the commissioning process 3.1.2. Consideration of other training requirements 3.1.3. Provide more support with finding suitable partners 3.1.4. Improve the information available on the internet, including a guide to jargon 3.1.5. Develop a Bristol approach to ‘social value’

3.2.

Recommendations for commissioners and Bristol City Council 3.2.1. Improve existing meet the buyer type sessions and regular forums 3.2.2. Ensure that there is more and better communication from Bristol City Council 3.2.3. Provide dedicated points of contact 3.2.4. Further develop commissioning practice 3.2.5. Work to more realistic timescales 3.2.6. Break down big contracts where possible 3.2.7. Ensure that there is a greater variety in contracts and allow room for innovation 3.2.8. Ensure that there is greater accountability and transparency 3.2.9. Demonstrate greater awareness of the challenges faced by small organisations

3.3.

Recommendations for VCS organisations 3.3.1. Review ‘commissioning’ in strategic planning processes 3.3.2. Engage with commissioning processes 3.3.3. Move towards partnership working

Commissioning Support Report. Contents. Page 6


1. 1.1

BACKGROUND The data collection process and the aims of the survey

A survey of commissioning practice in Bristol was undertaken by Voscur, in partnership with Bristol City Council (BCC). The purpose of the survey was to gather information about voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations’ experiences of commissioning and obtain feedback as to whether the processes could be made easier for them to engage with. This research therefore aimed to: • report on the levels of understanding of commissioning in Bristol’s VCS • inform the development of commissioning processes • define the VCS’s support requirements • allow the VCS to voice its views and concerns Survey responses were collected from 6th February to 24th April 2012, through directly telephoning a random sample of Voscur’s members. The aim was speak to 25% of Voscur’s membership. Those contacted were reassured that any responses given would be treated confidentially, so that they could speak openly and honestly about their experiences. Some were encouraged by the assurance of confidentiality as they had some concerns about implications of sharing their experiences and thoughts. 79 responses were gathered by the end of April and used for the analysis. This represents 17% of organisations in Voscur’s membership. Some difficulties were experienced due to the often part-time nature of staff responsible for the fundraising/ development aspect of charities, the organisations contacted frequently diverting to answerphone and the fact that some did not view commissioning as a priority (for example, groups funded solely by members or through donations). 1.2

Commissioning context

1.2.1 Commissioning in Bristol VCS organisations in Bristol are engaged in commissioning processes with the following public agencies: • Bristol City Council • NHS Bristol • Avon and Somerset Constabulary • Avon Fire and Rescue Service • Criminal Justice agencies (National Offender Management Service, Youth Offending Team, Crown Prosecution Service) All of these public sector bodies use different commissioning processes and this presents some complexity for Bristol’s voluntary and community sector. This research focused on Bristol City Council’s commissioning but it is acknowledged that the same observations, experiences and recommendations may apply to other commissioning in the city. 1.2.2 Bristol City Council and commissioning

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This research concentrated on commissioning associated with Bristol City Council and is in the context of the following commissioning developments. The report from the Select Committee on Third Sector Commissioning (May 2010) represents a good summary of the state of play of commissioning in Bristol two years ago. The Summary and Recommendations from the committee can be seen at: http://www.bristolcompact.org.uk/thirdsectorcommissioning Since then, the further development of BCC’s Enabling Commissioning Framework has been informed by the recommendations. Much progress has been made towards improving and standardising commissioning practice. Further information about the Enabling Commissioning Framework can be seen at: www.bristol.gov.uk/commissioning 2.

DETAILED ANALYSIS OF SURVEY RESULTS

2.1 Is the survey representative? As a local support and development organisation, Voscur’s membership is representative of the diverse voluntary and community sector. Whilst members were randomly selected, not all that were contacted agreed to participate. This would have had a slight impact on the random nature of the sample. However, this was offset by the fact that there was a high response rate when the relevant department or member of staff was contacted. Community groups and social enterprises were slightly underrepresented (12% of Voscur membership compared with 5% of respondents and 8% of Voscur membership compared with 1% of respondents, respectively), the former due to being difficult to contact. Several of the social enterprises that were asked to participate said that they were not interested in commissioning, which may be because such organisations are more likely to generate income through trading and other income generation activity. Nonetheless, the vast majority of respondents were registered charities, which is comparable to Voscur’s membership. 2.2

General information about respondents’ organisations

Basic information was gathered about the respondents, including whether their organisation is based in Bristol and the areas in which they provide services. The results are shown below. Scope of organisation Local1 Regional2 National International

Respondents 77% (61/79) 3% (2/79) 18% (14/79) 3% (2/79)

1

‘Local’ refers to those organisations that said they were Bristol-based ‘Regional’ refers to those organisations that said they were based in South West England 2

Commissioning Support Report. Page 8


Area in which services are provided Specific postcodes or wards City-wide throughout Bristol West of England South West England England Throughout the UK

Respondents 18% (14/79) 34% (27/79) 23% (18/79) 6% (5/79) 4% (3/79) 15% (12/79)

It is notable that most of the respondents described their organisation as local (77%) and working throughout Bristol (34%). 2.3

Organisations and the commissioning of public services

This section of the survey focused on the relationships between public sector bodies (primarily Bristol City Council) and Bristol’s voluntary and community sector, which in recent years has changed from traditional grant-funding to the commissioning of public services. Organisations were asked questions about various aspects of commissioning in order to establish in more detail their knowledge and experiences of the process. 2.3.1

Levels of awareness

2.3.1.1 Organisations and Bristol City Council In reply to the question “What is your level of awareness of the commissioning procedures used by BCC to commission services and outcomes?” the following responses were received.

Unaware 15%

Very aware 28%

Slightly aware 25% Aware 32%

Whilst most were aware or very aware of the procedures, it is notable that 40% were lacking in knowledge of commissioning. Commissioning Support Report. Page 9


2.3.1.2

Organisations and other public sector bodies

Many more organisations (67%) lacked knowledge in relation to commissioning by other public sector bodies (for example, NHS, criminal justice system), as shown below.

Very aware 15%

Unaware 32%

Aware 18%

Slightly aware 35%

2.3.1.3

Specific Bristol City Council departments

58% of respondents reported that they had knowledge of which BCC departments were responsible for the commissioning of specific services and outcomes. 50

46

45

No. of respondents

40 33

35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Aware

Unaware Aw arene ss

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2.3.2 2.3.2.1

Registration on BCC’s e-procurement system (Proactis/ Provide to Bristol) Percentage of organisations registered

Registration on Proactis/ Provide to Bristol Yes No Don't know

Respondents 63% (50/79) 28% (22/79) 9% (7/79)

Most (63%) organisations reported that they were already registered on BCC’s eprocurement system. An analysis3 of the correlation between awareness of commissioning (in section 2.3.1.1) and registration on BCC’s e-procurement system (that is, the tool for communicating commissioning opportunities to providers) indicated interesting results. There was only a mild-moderate correlation4 between them – meaning that registered organisations were not necessarily aware of commissioning procedures. This suggests that the information dissemination function of the e-procurement system may need further development. 2.3.2.2 Reasons for not registering Of those that reported their organisations were not registered, the following reasons indicate approaches that could be used in the further communication and development of the e-procurement system. The graph indicates numbers of responses.

Don't know how to register

Haven't needed to register

Don't know what it's used for

Unaware of it

0

2

4

6

8

10

3

12

14

The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was calculated. This is a widely used measure of the strength of linear dependence between two variables. 4 r=0.40, r²=0.16 Commissioning Support Report. Page 11


It is notable that, of those that described their reason for not registering as ‘have not needed to register’, several reported their interest in public service contracts. It is clear that there is a lack of understanding of the purpose of the e-procurement system amongst some of the respondents. 2.4

Partnership and consortia development

There is an increasing demand to deliver services through partnerships and consortia, so respondents were asked about their experiences of this in addition to their future intentions. 2.4.1

Partnership working in the past, present and future

Just over half (53%) of the organisations participating in the survey were already working in this way, and the majority (87%) had considered this option. When asked if they were prepared to work in a partnership, 74 responded ‘yes’ whilst 1 said ‘no’ and 4 were ‘unsure’. However, asking for further details on their experiences and perspective of working in a partnership or consortium revealed a significant discrepancy. This suggests that answers to the previous three questions may have been subject to response bias (namely, sociallydesirable responses and acquiescence)5. 2.4.2 2.4.2.1

Perceptions of partnership working The comments in general

The following categories emerged when examining the comments made by the 70 organisations that answered questions on partnership working. These are more likely to be an accurate reflection of organisations’ attitudes towards and their experiences of partnership working. Direct quotes are provided to illustrate these perspectives. Positive – 50% of organisations • “We find it very helpful, as it brings us expertise we don’t have in-house.” • “We’re not currently doing so as it [partnership working] is project-based, but have done so in the past and are happy to do so again in the future.” • “We feel very positively about it and want to work with as many organisations as possible.” • “It is really, really useful and definitely benefits the children we work with.” Can be useful if they are open to the idea and get the right support to do it – 23% of organisations • “We wouldn’t rule it out, especially in these times.” • “It might be helpful for additional funding or extra services. We hope to focus primarily on our current contract though.” • “We would definitely consider it.” 5

Response bias is a type of research bias – socially-desirable responses refer to the tendency for respondents to answer in a way that will be viewed favourably by others, and acquiescence refers to the tendency to agree with/ respond positively to survey questions, especially when in doubt. Commissioning Support Report. Page 12


A good idea in theory but have concerns and obstacles when putting into practice/ a more neutral stance – 16% of organisations • “It can be beneficial if all partners are working collaboratively but it is incredibly timeconsuming.” • “A good way of working but can also be very challenging depending on the partners.” • “It’s a nice idea in theory but it’s extremely hard to find the time to work in this way.” Negative – 9% of organisations • “Have used this way of working in the past but found it to be incredibly time-consuming and frustrating.” • “Not very straightforward. It’s great in theory but a lot of work. And also hard to find partners. Feels like we're being forced down this route but are not sure we have the time or resources to do it.” • “We would do it if needed but it’s not ideal and can hinder an organisation due to conflicting values.” Some respondents stated that they did not know enough about this way of working to comment. 2.4.2.2 Specific concerns and difficulties of collaborative working Several themes could be identified when respondents commented on the challenges of working in a partnership or consortium and these are detailed below. • The difficulty in finding appropriate partners (11 organisations said this) • The time-consuming nature of working in partnerships, which can outweigh the benefits

and puts a lot of pressure on organisations, particularly the smaller ones (13 organisations said this). This is reflected nationally, with a large-scale report of charities’ experiences of public service commissioning within England and Wales reporting that “many comments point[ed] to the time, resources and other challenges involved [with working in partnership]”6. • The challenges in establishing a healthy balance between organisations working together, managing conflicting interests and preserving their own identities (7 organisations said this). 2.5

Support and training requirements

Organisations were asked if they required any support or training, so that Voscur and BCC could identify gaps in knowledge and define the needs of the voluntary and community sector. Area of support and training Partnership and consortia development E-procurement systems TUPE Business skills Understanding the commissioning procedures

Responses Yes No 47% 53% 47% 53% 29% 71% 49% 51% 49% 51%

6

Hedley, S. and Joy, I. (2012). When the going gets tough…: Charities’ experiences of public service commissioning, p14. New Philanthropy Capital. Commissioning Support Report. Page 13


Other areas of support that were described by respondents included: • general fundraising tips • leadership development in relation to managing staff • public health and how that sector is now changing • human resources e.g. employing staff • an organisation’s legal position if acting as a subcontractor • understanding the difference between statutory and non-statutory • keeping up with changing contractual expectations/ management standards (for example: environmental impact, safeguarding) • media support in terms of video editing and content management for websites incorporation as a company • managing volunteers and ensuring volunteers benefit from their work Finally, organisations described their need for support that directly related to commissioning: • “communicating with funders, following a grant or contract, to discuss exactly how the money should be used” • “understanding the post award part of commissioning” • “understanding the Payment by Results system” 2.6

Improving commissioning relationships

Organisations were presented with five ways in which commissioning relationships could be improved: • • • • •

Knowing what contracts are coming up in advance Meet the buyer type sessions Improved internet information Dedicated points of contact Regular forums between BCC and providers/ potential providers

They were asked to rate each one as ‘very useful’, ‘quite useful’, ‘useful’, ‘not useful’ or ‘not important’. The responses are illustrated in the graphs below. 2.6.1

Knowing what contracts are coming up in advance

Knowing what contracts are coming up in advance was deemed to be paramount by many organisations, and only one said it was ‘not useful’. None of the respondents said it was ‘not important’. A significant number of organisations also commented that they wanted to know what contracts were coming up as soon as possible in order for them to maximise their chances of submitting a successful bid.

Commissioning Support Report. Page 14


Not useful 1%

Not important 0%

Useful 28%

Quite useful 1% Very useful 70%

2.6.2

Meet the buyer type sessions

Not important 3% Not useful 8%

Very useful 45% Useful 37%

Quite useful 7%

Most respondents (89%) were in favour of meet the buyer type sessions, and there was a recurrent theme of organisations hoping that BCC would be open to negotiation/ consultation with them during such sessions rather than a one-way flow of information. 2.6.3

Improved internet information Commissioning Support Report. Page 15


Not important 8% Not useful 5% Very useful 35%

Useful 45%

Quite useful 7%

Whilst rated not as useful as knowing what contracts are coming up in advance or “meet the buyer� type sessions, most organisations (87%) felt that improved internet information would be helpful. A number of respondents did not know what information is currently available online, suggesting that more work needs to be done in raising awareness. 2.6.4

Dedicated points of contact

Not useful 5%

Not important 0%

Useful 25%

Quite useful 3%

Very useful 67%

Commissioning Support Report. Page 16


Having dedicated points of contact was almost as important/useful to respondents as knowing what contracts are coming in advance (95% answered positively), especially for smaller organisations who were less familiar with commissioning procedures as they remarked that this would make the process seem less daunting. 2.6.5

Regular forums between BCC and providers/ potential providers

Not important 1% Not useful 11%

Very useful 45%

Useful 40%

Quite useful 3%

Regular forums between BCC and providers/ potential providers were rated as important by 88% of respondents. It is also notable that for several of those who said it would not be useful, the reason was because they just did not have the capacity to attend these forums without their core area of work (i.e. service delivery) being affected. A couple of organisations also commented that they felt such sessions would be helpful provided that they were well structured and aims and objectives were outlined beforehand and evaluated. 2.6.6

Comments from organisations regarding the commissioning procedures

Organisations were asked about their experiences of commissioning and any suggestions or feedback on if the process could be made easier for them. Their comments covered various aspects so have been grouped as follows, with direct quotes to illustrate the points made. 2.6.6.1

Information, communication and engagement

Better awareness and keeping up-to-date Many organisations felt that they could benefit from better awareness of commissioning in general, especially through the use of regular prompts from BCC and being informed of what opportunities and information were currently available. They were keen to find out about the latest developments, and suggested that more e-mail alerts may be helpful in Commissioning Support Report. Page 17


this respect. Overall, they said that there was a need for more communication from Bristol City Council. Better engagement Organisations felt that BCC could do more to engage with them. This was a particular concern from the smaller groups, that felt somewhat overlooked and that commissioning relationships could be improved if BCC had a better understanding of “how we work and what we want to achieve”. In a similar vein, a few organisations didn’t feel that “commissioning is addressing needs, which is surely the point of commissioning, but BCC don’t seem to understand what those needs actually are, so should involve service users more”. One added that “commissioners also need to be mindful that some communities work in specific ways and to therefore be flexible about how needs are met [through commissioning]”. Working together/ addressing the perceived power imbalance There was a strong sense from talking to organisations that they did not perceive there to be a “level playing field”. As a result, there was a call for stronger partnerships/ stronger dialogue between the VCS and BCC (“we don’t feel BCC works with us”, “it needs to be a two-way process”). This may in part be due to cultural differences in communication and the diversity of the voluntary and community sector. For example, some VCS organisations, particularly the smaller ones, may be less formal and unfamiliar with the specialist terms used in relation to commissioning (for example, ’e-procurement’, ‘invitation to tender’). They value face-to-face discussions, with people who are mindful of their capacity. This point is explored in more detail in Section 2.6.6.5. It is also important to note that this perceived power imbalance is reflected nationally, with the aforementioned New Philanthropy Capital report stating that “51% of charities are not confident that government commissioners run bidding processes in a way that is fair to charities”7. Forums When asked if regular forums between the voluntary and community sector and BCC would be of benefit, the general response was that this was a good idea in theory but was not as straightforward as it may seem (see 2.6.1). For example, finding the time to attend such forums was a real problem for several organisations so they did not see them as a viable option for them. However, the majority did feel positively about (including actually going to) forums but felt there was significant room for improvement in relation to those that already exist. Many said that a clear outline of the aims/ purposes of any meetings or forums should be provided beforehand so that organisations could decide if it was relevant to them (“if not, attending takes up precious time that could instead be spent on service users”). Some said that due to lack of such clarity in the past, they felt that they had wasted time going to meetings where the information was simply not of interest to their organisation or service users or where they had attended several, only to find it was the same information being repeated to them each time. Similarly, some information given at meetings was too broad and general so organisations wondered if meetings could be made to be more 7

Hedley, S. and Joy, I. (2012). When the going gets tough…: Charities’ experiences of public service commissioning, p17. New Philanthropy Capital. Commissioning Support Report. Page 18


tailored: “sometimes it can be information overload, covering every aspect of commissioning. It can then seem overcomplicated so it would be helpful if they tailored it more to the organisations involved by only telling them the things relevant to them and saying earlier on whether or not they are actually eligible”. Another area identified as in need of strengthening was the actual communication at these forums, which relates to the previous section on “Working together” (2.6.6.1). It was felt by many that more could be done to enable the voluntary and community sector to voice their views and give feedback as to how they were finding the commissioning procedures and ensure that the forums were helpful for them (“an ongoing dialogue between organisations and BCC to communicate what is and isn’t working, where we can give feedback on the process and also hear the council’s responses – a two-way process, basically”). More information A number of avenues were identified as to how commissioning relationships could be improved with regard to the information available. Firstly, as already stated some organisations wanted less jargon (“it makes it really daunting”; “there are a lot of specialist terms that can be confusing or hard to understand when trying to apply for commissioning”). Whilst this may not be a problem for the majority of respondents, it may be useful to have a section on the Proactis website that explains the specialist terms. Secondly, the quality of the information was found to vary. Some organisations asked for clearer information on contracts whilst others said there needed to be a better balance between “too vague descriptions on Provide to Bristol and painfully wordy ones”. In addition to this, one organisation commented that “the council don’t always seem familiar with the documents they put up… there have been times when we didn’t get clear answers when asking about a document, or there were inconsistencies in their documents”. A similar remark was made by another organisation that said, “a lot of questions from organisations went unanswered in that there was no help whatsoever from the council, who just told us to refer to the guidance notes, which weren’t enough. The application form itself didn’t seem well thought through and hardly correlated with the guidance notes”. Thirdly, several organisations said that a detailed guide to the commissioning process would be very helpful. More information on the Provide to Bristol website about commissioning was also suggested. 2.6.6.2

Timings

More realistic timescales Many organisations emphasised the importance of knowing what contracts were coming up in advance so that they had adequate time to prepare for them. There was general agreement that the notice given by BCC was often not sufficient or meant that deadlines were extremely tight even if successfully met by an organisation. For example, one respondent commented that “earlier notice in some instances would be very helpful… some things come up quite last-minute which makes it really difficult for us” whilst another said “a lot of the time, BCC underestimate how much work is involved and how much time is needed when preparing to bid for a contract”. More notice of changes A few organisations commented that there had been occasions where changes had been made to contracts they were bidding for, and that they had not been given much notice Commissioning Support Report. Page 19


and that there was little leeway made in such circumstances. They therefore said it would be helpful in future to either know more in advance, or for deadlines to be extended as a result of the alterations. 2.6.6.3

Size and type of contracts

Smaller contracts Some organisations suggested breaking down big contracts, to make it a more level playing field and so that they could stay within their specialist area when delivering services rather than “have to change our mission and values simply to fit neatly into a commissioner’s boxes”. More variety in contracts and more room for innovation Variety and flexibility were greatly valued by several organisations, that felt that “commissioners should be more flexible about how needs are met rather than prescribing the exact way outcomes are achieved”. One also remarked that flexibility was “particularly helpful for small organisations like us”. Closely linked to variety and flexibility is BCC’s (lack of) openness to new ideas, which one organisation felt was a hindrance to them (“securing funding seems to be based on playing the game, so small grassroots organisations with new innovative ideas [like us] are being excluded from entering the sector. The council could be more flexible and dynamic”). 2.6.6.4

Bristol City Council’s procedures and actions

Dedicated points of contact There was a strong call for dedicated points of contact, especially those that respondents could phone rather than simply contact via e-mail. One organisation described such an option as “invaluable” whilst another said that they “really cannot emphasise enough how important having a dedicated point of contact is”. This is consistent with the 95% who responded earlier in the survey that dedicated points of contacts would be useful for them (see section 2.6.4). Greater accountability and transparency, and fairness regarding deadlines and following own procedures Accountability and transparency were issues of concern for some organisations, as comments that came from them included “it would be great if the council made the process more transparent”, ”the council say wonderful things but don’t necessarily follow through” and “it needs to be a more open and transparent process”. On a related note, several organisations described a sense of unfairness with regards to deadlines. One said that “we have been aware these last 12 months that BCC have been missing their own deadlines yet there is little leeway for charities applying for funding”. Similarly, another respondent described their frustration that BCC “often move the goalposts when it suits them and don’t follow their own procedures”. 2.6.6.5

Additional comments

When speaking to organisations about their experiences and perspectives on commissioning, there was a strong sense that the smaller organisations found the process more difficult to engage with. This came across in comments such as: • “BCC need to be more aware that some charities have 5 workers whilst others may

have 500, so it can be very labour intensive for us” Commissioning Support Report. Page 20


• “we feel the commissioning process may disadvantage the smaller voluntary groups –

the people on the ground” • “sometimes contracts are quite big and it can be hard for a small organisation to cover

all the requirements in it” • “BCC need to be more mindful of the challenges smaller charities face” • “more could be done to facilitate small organisations to be involved in the process” • “smaller charities really suffer from the process”

2.7

Quality of Services and Activities

With more pressures on limited resources, there is a growing need for organisations to demonstrate services are of high quality. Respondents were asked how they ensured the quality of their services and activities. 2.7.1

Official Quality Marks and Standards

Less than half of respondents reported that their organisation had, or had started work towards, an official quality mark or standard but it was not uncommon for these organisations to have several accreditations. This was also observed in a national study of quality assurance in the VCS8, which reported that a number of organisations held more than one quality standard even if they had already obtained a ‘whole organisation’ standard such as PQASSO. Quality mark Yes No 2.7.2

No. of respondents

% of respondents 34 43% 45 57%

Types of Quality Marks

There was a wide range of quality marks, with little overlap between organisations except for PQASSO9 and the Legal Services Commission Quality Mark (four organisations had the former and seven had the latter). Other quality marks included Reach, Investors in People, the Matrix Standard, Care Quality Commission accreditation and the Supporting People QAF10. 2.7.3

Reasons for achieving (or starting work on) a Quality Mark or Standard

The main reason for achieving a Quality Mark was for organisational improvement, although organisations often gave several reasons as shown in the chart below.

8

Brodie, E., Anstey, G., Vanson, T. and Piper, R. (2012). Scoping study – Quality Assurance in the Voluntary and Community Sector, p5. NCVO. 9 PQASSO is a quality standard developed for the third sector, by the sector (http://www.ces-vol.org.uk/PQASSO/pqasso-the-basics). 10 Quality Assessment Framework Commissioning Support Report. Page 21


25 22 20

14

15

10

11

10

5 5

0 Required for service delivery

2.7.4

Required by funder

Organisational improvement

Competitiveness

Other

Organisations’ approach to delivering high quality services

Organisations were asked about their approach to ensuring that services were high quality, continually improved and responded to service users’ needs. A range of responses was given, with a huge emphasis on service user involvement. This was achieved in a variety of ways, such as by distributing regular user surveys, holding user forums and having service users on the management committee. Other quality assurance methods described by respondents included: • • • • • • • • •

Feedback from staff and volunteers Service reviews, reports and case studies Performance indicators Benchmarking Annual audits (internal and external) Complaints monitoring Quality advisory groups Regular staff training Highly skilled staff and management committees

As was found by NCVO in its national study11, a quality mark or standard is not necessary for delivering quality services - such standards merely make up one of many ways of demonstrating the quality of an organisation and “even the most popular quality standards (PQASSO and Investors in People) are a marginal activity when compared with other methods of improving the quality of a VCO or its services”. 11

Brodie, E., Anstey, G., Vanson, T. and Piper, R. (2012). Scoping study – Quality Assurance in the Voluntary and Community Sector, p31. NCVO. Commissioning Support Report. Page 22


2.8

Social value

Respondents were asked if they understood the terms ‘social value’ and ‘added value’, in light of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. This will require public bodies to consider social, economic and environmental issues. Accordingly, VCS organisations may also need to take such factors into account in commissioning processes. Just under half of the respondents stated that they understood the terms. Yes No

39 49.40% 40 50.60%

However, when asked to describe how their organisation and its services delivered social value, only 25 respondents (31.6%) were able to articulate its meaning and relevance to their work. The following examples demonstrate the range of responses and thoughts. • “We use qualitative and quantitative methods to measure social value e.g. are we saving GPs money. Look at impact of money and emotional wellbeing.” • “We're community-embedded, are user-led and cater for vulnerable people who, when better, go back to volunteer for us.” • “We empower communities to make changes to their environment and improve social cohesion. In terms of added value, we attempt to deliver services by training volunteers who don't normally have the opportunity to take part in environmental activities.” 3.

RECOMMENDATIONS

3.1

General recommendations

The following general recommendations are intended for commissioners and support organisations. 3.1.1

Provide further support and training on the commissioning process

It is clear from this research that the voluntary and community sector requires more support and training around commissioning. This includes familiarising themselves with the commissioning procedures, greater awareness of which BCC departments are relevant to them when applying for contracts to deliver services, and knowledge of Proactis in addition to how to use the system. Currently, 40% of respondents lacked awareness of the procedures, 42% did not know about the relevant BCC departments and almost a third were not registered on Proactis due to reasons such as not knowing how to or what it is used for. It may also be useful to develop training that is tailored towards supporting the smaller VCS organisations to understand and actively engage in commissioning by building their skills and ability to respond to bids.

Commissioning Support Report. Page 23


The promotion of some stages of the commissioning cycle as opportunities to influence should be considered. Such opportunities may help to engage VCS organisations in constructive dialogue with commissioners and to increase provider participation. 3.1.2

Consider other training requirements

There is evidence that organisations also need more support and training in partnership working, TUPE12, business skills, and understanding social value. It is notable that when asked about TUPE, many respondents either did not know what it was or thought that it did not apply to them due to their small size. More therefore needs to be done to raise awareness of TUPE and its implications for organisations that are being decommissioned. 3.1.3

Provide more support with finding suitable partners

Partnership working can be of great benefit to organisations, particularly those that are small in size, but the difficulty in finding suitable partners was highlighted as a significant barrier for the voluntary and community sector. It may therefore be helpful to establish some way of promoting potential partners, whether this is done through web-based means or networking events. 3.1.4

Improve the information available on the internet, including a guide to jargon

It is recommended that more information is available online regarding commissioning, which should contribute to enhancing the voluntary and community sector’s overall knowledge of the process. It may also help to produce a guide that explains the specialist terms used in relation to commissioning, as many respondents commented that there was too much jargon. 3.1.5

Develop a Bristol approach to ‘social value’

It is recommended that Bristol City Council and support organisations work together, in consultation with the VCS, to develop further Bristol’s approach to social value. This work should cover a standard definition as well as the approach to measuring social value. This would should be integrated into support activities and become part of BCC’s Enabling Commissioning Framework. 3.2 3.2.1

Recommendations for commissioners and Bristol City Council Improve existing meet the buyer type sessions and regular forums

Whilst some of these sessions and forums already exist, there is a need for greater engagement and dialogue between BCC and VCS organisations during such meetings. Additionally, respondents are keen for clear descriptions of the aims and objectives of a meeting to be provided beforehand so that they can make an informed decision about attending and to give the session structure. There is also a need for these events to be monitored and evaluated to ensure that they are useful and productive for all parties involved. 3.2.2

Ensure that there is more and better communication from Bristol City Council

12

TUPE: Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (http://www.bristolcompact.org.uk/vcse/TUPE) Commissioning Support Report. Page 24


Many organisations feel that presently there is not enough communication from BCC regarding the latest developments, general information and relevant commissioning opportunities. It is therefore suggested that e-mail alerts, for example, are sent more frequently, and that any updates or changes are more widely publicised using appropriate communication channels. 3.2.3

Provide dedicated points of contact

There is evidence that dedicated points of contact are highly valued by the voluntary and community sector, due to their specialist knowledge and reliability. It is recommended that there are dedicated points of contact who organisations can seek support and information from. 3.2.4

Further develop and improve commissioning practice

The following focus in further developing commissioning practice is recommended: • Early engagement of VCS organisations in developing understanding of needs and service outcomes • Better communication of the results of engagement/ consultation activities to VCS organisations to share results and to consolidate their sense of participation and its value 3.2.5

Work to more realistic timescales

Organisations feel that they currently operate to tight deadlines when bidding for commissioning contracts, so it is recommended that sufficient time is given for applications in future. 3.2.6

Break down big contracts where possible

There is evidence of small organisations finding commissioning a difficult and often daunting process to engage with due to their capacity, particularly with regard to larger contracts. It is suggested, therefore, that contracts are broken down, where possible, so that smaller organisations are more able to participate in commissioning. 3.2.7

Ensure that there is a greater variety in contracts and allow room for innovation

Variety, innovation and flexibility as to how outcomes are achieved were all factors that organisations highlighted as being important to them, so it is recommended that a greater emphasis is put on these when commissioners are looking to understand the needs of communities and service users and to commission new services from this. 3.2.8

Ensure that there is greater accountability and transparency

Organisations have identified instances where there is a need for greater accountability and transparency from the council, especially when changes are made to contracts up for tender and deadlines. It is important that as much as possible is done to ensure deadlines are met by BCC and that commissioning is an open and transparent process in order to foster and maintain good relationships between BCC and the voluntary and community sector. When timings do change, some explanation of the rationale for changes and

Commissioning Support Report. Page 25


acknowledgement of the impact of changes on organisations would help to maintain confidence in processes. 3.2.9

Demonstrate greater awareness of the challenges faced by small organisations

A recurrent theme in this research was the challenges/ concerns faced by the smaller organisations that wanted to engage in commissioning but were deterred by the size of contracts, the way they felt they were perceived by BCC and the time-consuming nature of partnership working. As a result, it is recommended that commissioners are mindful of the issues smaller organisations may face when putting commissioning contracts up for tender. 3.3

Recommendations for VCS organisations

The following recommendations are made specifically for VCS organisations to aid their development and capacity to engage in commissioning processes. 3.3.1

Review ‘commissioning’ in strategic planning processes

The change from traditional grant-funding to outcomes-based commissioned services is fundamental. The old assumptions no longer apply. It is recommended that the following questions be considered in strategic planning processes by VCS organisations’ governance bodies (management committees, boards of trustees/directors): • How does the change from grant-funding to commissioning affect our organisation? • How does our organisation want to be contracted to deliver public services? • Does our organisation have everything in place to engage in commissioning processes? • What does our organisation need to have in place to engage in commissioning processes and to deliver services? • Where else can we get support with this? • Who in the council can we contact to ask questions and feed in our views? 3.3.2

Engage with commissioning processes

40% of VCS organisations in this research lack awareness of commissioning. It is important that they proactively seek support and information to increase their knowledge base, and to understand their organisational needs (regarding commissioning) so that they can participate more fully in commissioning. 3.3.3 Move towards partnership working It is recommended that VCS organisations develop and strengthen their relationships with potential partners and consider the ways in which they can work together to deliver services. It is important that they proactively seek support in developing their partnership skills, perhaps from local support and development organisations.

Commissioning Support Report. Page 26

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Commissioning Support Analysis  

A report on a survey of commissioning practice in Bristol; undertaken by Voscur, in partnership with Bristol City Council (BCC). The report...

Commissioning Support Analysis  

A report on a survey of commissioning practice in Bristol; undertaken by Voscur, in partnership with Bristol City Council (BCC). The report...

Profile for voscur
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