Commissioning power belongs in the hands of the community not the institution

July 8, 2019   By Trinley Walker, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

In February of this year NLGN set out a compelling new vision for public services in The Community Paradigm The report argued that for a preventative approach to public service delivery to be achieved, significant power and resource must shift from institutions to communities. This shift would foment a radically new relationship between citizen and state.

NLGN’s new report – Community Commissioning: Shaping public services through people power– picks up on one of the recommendations from the original report to hand the power to design services over to communities and adds much greater detail to the idea.

Community commissioning would result in numerous benefits for both people and places. Evidence shows that individual wellbeing, community cohesion as well as policy effectiveness all improve on the basis of greater participation among citizens. Indeed, all of these positive impacts were borne out through the interviews conducted with Big Local areas as part of the research. For the authors, the principle behind Big Local – handing significant resource over to a community to spend as they see fit – was a significant inspiration for the report.

Across the country, neighbourhoods taking part in the Big Local Programme were providing support, opportunities and services for local people in a manner that public sector bodies would be unable to replicate. For example, we heard from Barrowcliff Big Local how local people responded differently to their support than outreach from statutory bodies which was often characterised by mistrust. Barrowcliff established a coaching and support system for chaotic families, working intensively with them on life skills, wellbeing, parenting and learning. Other examples from various Big Local areas demonstrated a fine-grained understanding of local needs and the ability to build social capital through their commissioned services and funded programmes.

Having established the basis for a model of community commissioning to be established the report goes on to explore how public sector bodies should embark on this. Four key questions are set out.

  1. What is the nature of the service? The implications of community commissioning will differ according to whether it is a discretionary or ‘non-core’ service or alternatively a statutory or core service being delivered. Over time, however, should community commissioning take hold, the statutory/non-statutory distinction will fade in significance as all of the contextual factors that impact on service delivery in a place are addressed holistically.
  2. What is the nature of the commissioning network? Whether community commissioning is delivered through a group of residents in a defined geographical area or through those who naturally coalesce around a need or interest will have a big impact on the approach.
  3. What is the method of power transfer? Perhaps the most crucial question. The various formal and informal mechanisms for the transfer of power need to be identified and developed with the community concerned.
  4. What will be the depth of participation? The extent to which commissioning will be community led or institution led will differ between places and services but over time any initiative should move to being as community led as possible.

To help engender a shift towards community commissioning – the report sets out a number of recommendations for Government. These include reform of the overarching regulatory framework for commissioning and procurement to make community power more central to decisions surrounding resource allocation. The formal establishment of ‘community constitutions’ are also called for, as a means through which a new community-centred culture could help to be embedded. New funding to help develop community commissioning at the local level is also called for with the Shared Prosperity Fund in particular representing an excellent opportunity for this objective.

Boldness and creativity will be required for the vision of community commissioning set out in this report to take root. Given the pressures on public services from rising demand and the inability of current models to address that pressure, there is now little choice left but to embrace boldness and creativity.

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