Thursday, 1 March 2012

Commissioning on a wing and a prayer

We have been inundated with discussions around the Work Programme and the associated  communications debacle.  For example, the coincidental removal of what appeared to be inconsistent guidance from the DWP website and my own comments on the due diligence associated with the appointment the 'Tsar of Contract Manipulation'.  However, I now want to draw on some insights from an  excellent academic paper which strikes me as pertinent, namely Don Harradine's paper published in Public Money and Management.

Don explored a different DWP initiative, 'LinkAge Plus', and interviewed staff from DWP, a local authority and the third sector. His findings are intriguing and resonate with some of my previous blogs:

  • Proposals were developed in haste for political expediency while funding was available and it is was therefore accepted they would be flawed;
  • Pilots were agreed and funded partly to justify a political agenda;
  • DWP were reluctant to probe potential third sector providers' quotation costs: "if they say they can do it for that cost, that will do me"; 
  • Third sector providers though lacked sufficient financial expertise to understand the relative costs associated with service delivery;
  • There was a lack of agreed definitions on some aspects of contract delivery, for example, what constituted 'a contact';
  • Third sector providers acquiesced on agreement of targets just to obtain the funding, even though the targets were not understood.
We need to be wary of reading across too much from Harradine's research to other DWP programmes, but
it does suggest that gateway Reviews 1, 2 and 3 weren't carried out particularly robustly and highlights some factors which should be addressed by us all when commissioning public services, regardless of the sector:
  1. Is there a robust business case?
  2. Have the procurement team carried out the appropriate level of due diligence to protect both the commissioner and the provider from badly costed proposals?
  3. is there clarity and agreement on the all fundamental definitions regarding what is to be delivered?
  4. Are targets clearly understood and recognised as achievable and manageable?  

Harradine, D. (2012) 'An examination, through roles of accounting, of the commissioning of public services from the third sector: the case of a DWP funded initiative', in Public Money and Management, Vol. 32, No.2, pp. 111-117.

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