Join us to push for long term improved commissioning in your area

Caroline Howe

The coronavirus pandemic has brought significant changes to public services in a matter of weeks. How should commissioning and funding of services change to adapt to this new context? Lloyds Bank Foundation England and Wales, alongside NCVO and sector bodies are working to collect stories of what’s happening with public services contracts during this time. Here, Policy and National Programmes Manager, Caroline Howe talks us through why it’s important to share your experiences to help make the case for change.

There has been a huge amount written about the impact of the coronavirus on income gained through fundraising and trading activities for charities. But what about contract income, where charities are contracted through government to provide specific services? Many of the vital services charities we fund provide are underpinned by these statutory contracts. With so many people relying on the services charities provide like domestic abuse support, homelessness support, mental health support, income from statutory sources needs to be secure.    

The commissioning response to COVID-19

Charities, particularly those who are small and local, have faced challenges with commissioning for many years.

As so many things are thrown upside down by the pandemic, we’re keen to understand the impact of commissioning and contracts on those delivering services. Given the rigid nature of contracts, built around specifications of how services have to be delivered, we want to understand how these services and payments are carrying on when so much has changed.

We’ve heard from a number of grant holders that commissioners have responded with flexibility and support, enabling them to adapt their services and respond to needs with the assurance that they will still receive the funding that they so desperately need, despite the method of delivery changing. This is a huge relief for charities but most importantly, for the people they support who can continue to access help when they need it most.

This kind of response has been promoted by central government. Cabinet Office published a procurement note that calls for more flexibility around key performance indicators and payment arrangements.

We’ve also heard from local authorities about how the response to coronavirus has led to a new, much better way of working between commissioners and local charities. Charities haven’t waited to receive detailed contracts to respond. They have done what they’ve always done – seen the need and worked to address it. And local authorities have been finding ways to support some of this work, without restrictive payment by results contracts but by trusting charities to do the job.

This partnership-based approach, built on trusting relationships, is at the heart of the Keep it Local approach that we’ve been pushing for. Now it’s coming into its own like never before.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for all areas. Alongside the great examples of commissioners and local charities finding new ways to work together, we’ve also heard of commissioners refusing to fund services because they’re now delivered in a different way . Of commissioners shutting down communications so charities have no idea whether they will continue to receive funding. How will people in these areas access vital services if funding dries up?


Where do we go from here?

As attention starts to turn to the future, we need to make the case for ongoing shifts in commissioning. To use the good examples to shift the poor practice. To demonstrate how some of the current flexibility improves services and charities’ ability to deliver them and why it should be increased. 

While the future is uncertain, one thing we can be sure of is that we will continue to see change, with services continuing to need to adapt – the case has never been stronger to make more use of grants that build in the flexibility charities will need to make these adaptations.


Your stories can help make change:

We’re working with NCVO, Locality, Children England and Clinks to gather the evidence to push for change. We hope you’ll be able to use this too, to push for longer term improved commissioning in your area.

To do that, we need to hear about your examples. We need to be able to point to where commissioning is working – demonstrating there is another way. We also want to hear about where it isn’t working – demonstrating the need for more to be done. You can help us by sharing your examples. What has happened to your commissioner service?

As funding pressures only increase, it’s vital that commissioning approaches adapt too. We’re seeing glimmers of how things could be in some areas – but we don’t want these to be one-off examples. Join us by sharing your story. 

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