Monday, 1 February 2016

A bizarre approach to procurement of social services in Northern Ireland

Sometimes I hear a news story relating to public procurement and just sit back mystified. Tonight it was announced that the independent social care sector in Northern Ireland will receive a 'no strings attached' £1.6m gift from the public sector, a 2% increase in the rates Trusts pay to private sector providers.

The aspiration is said to be that the increase will help in recruiting staff, yet whether or not the private sector providers decide to use the additional money in that way is entirely their choice.

It is great that the NI Health and Social Care Board have decided to plough more money into care, but let's remember that the care packages offered to families in Northern Ireland are not remotely similar to those offered elsewhere in the UK and, as a result, many families have to cover care costs which they wouldn't have to elsewhere. I suppose you could argue that 2% increase would reduce costs paid to self-funders, but is that the case?

However, if we look at this purely from a procurement perspective:

  • If the objective was to help with recruitment costs, why was the money not made available with the explicit requirement that it would directly flow into staff pay-packets?
  • Then again, why should the money be passed to private sector providers without any regard to the profits being made and retained by the providers? Would it not have been more prudent to consider how each provider currently manages their business?
  • How does this look to other businesses, particularly family run businesses, which have seen a reduction in their own 'take home pay' while trying to avoid pain for their staff?
I'm sure this was a well intentioned initiative, but perhaps it could be better managed.

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