Commissioning and control – where is the citizen?

A guest blog from Simon Taylor (, who supports our micro-enterprise members:

Another fascinating but frustrating blog just crossed my radar. It is from the Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers, Bridget Robb about how social workers feel frustrated with the commissioning of homecare and alienated from their own authorities’ commissioning systems.

It is a thought-provoking piece exploring how front line professionals can be excluded from decision-making and commissioning processes. She argues that many social workers are unhappy about the quality of much of the domiciliary care that they arrange, but “feel that they have little power and control over the services. Social workers need to be able to work with a small number of locally based suppliers of home care in small localities in order to build up relationships with the suppliers”.

The last line would hearten many micro-enterprise care providers who would relish such engagement. However, it is disheartening when even professionals do not feel as if they have any control, choice or power.

Alongside this, in my inbox, was news of a new Government attempt to drive up quality in local authority adult services. It is a new website launched to compare authorities’ adult social care performance via the Adult Social Care Outcome indicators. It hopes to help local people hold their council to account by making this, already available information, more accessible.

This seems laudable, but does raise the question of how local people will be able to use the information they can gather to hold their council to account, if BASW feels that even social workers can have no impact upon the support services they are able to purchase?

The small, locally based, diverse and personalised services of our very small-scale micro-enterprise members are often purchased mainly by self-funders and those on direct payments, who can escape the bureaucracy of council-managed budget systems, whereas in many cases, even those local authorities which invest in developing local micro-enterprise services, are failing to purchase from them. So will people who rely on state-funded care but don’t want or aren’t able to manage a cash Direct Payment themselves going to remain reliant on services which event their care managers are unhappy with? Some councils are starting to show that it needn’t be that way.

Our paper ‘Commissioning for Provider Diversity’, explores the ways in which commissioning could be reshaped to include the people who use services and then work with providers to ensure that choice is available. It replaces commissioner control with, not social worker control but a shared approach, where commissioners and professionals influence and develop provider markets alongside the people who use services. It recommends:

• promoting the value of citizenship and contribution

• modelling an open, inclusive approach to commissioning

• reducing barriers to new provider entry

• ensuring that communication is at the top of the agenda, communication with people using services, providers, other council staff, external stakeholders and the wider community.

We know local authorities need support to make these changes and our paper is the start of a journey towards a better balance for commissioning. It advances, through a new model for commissioning, a future where people can have control and realise choice to successfully find services and where providers can flourish to deliver personalised support effectively.

‘Commissioning for Provider Diversity’ can be found at:

You can also find out about our sister organisation, Community Catalysts’ work to support market development and micro-enterprise providers at:

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