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Ask the Experts – Strategic commissioning

Friday August 20th, 2010

By Morven MacNeil, GO Features Editor

GO Features Editor Morven MacNeil answers your queries on strategic commissioning.

Q What is strategic commissioning?

A Strategic commissioning recognises the public’s needs and aspirations and addresses these on the basis of neutrality among providers. Good commissioning is about delivering customer-centric outcomes for an area, not narrow outputs. For example, a contract at present might contain a specification for street cleaning (in order to make a place more attractive and safe). An outcome-based contract would specify a more attractive and safer place as the outcome. This would be achieved not just through street cleaning but through bringing together a range of services to improve a neighbourhood. This might include services to reduce crime, improve transport, street clean and generate economic development. And it is the provider that makes the decision about ‘the how’ rather than the public body, bringing into play such behavioural change and innovation as deliver the desired outcome. That is a key difference.

Q How does it differ from procurement?

A Commissioning is much more than just procuring services – this only occurs later in the cycle. Identifying the need is the first stage of a strategic commissioning approach; it is then followed by areas such as consultations, business cases, strategies and specifications. Once all these options have been identified, the procurement process can then be implemented.

Q Why is strategic commissioning so important at the present time?

A In a changing political landscape, with severe financial constraints, it is imperative that if core public services are to be maintained, there is wide-ranging fresh thinking on the process of commissioning public services – including acceptance that innovative delivery is essential and that there will be a plurality of providers from the public, private, social enterprise and third sectors.

Q Are there any best practice examples to refer to?

A The BiP Solutions (publishers of GO magazine and supply chain solutions specialists) has released a positioning statement entitled Ten Essential Principles for a strategic commissioning process.

The all-important first principle, as mentioned earlier, is that procurement is but one means of implementing strategic commissioning outcomes, as strategic commissioning will identify needs and aspirations as well as the options for addressing these on the basis of neutrality between providers before the actual procurement process takes place.

BiP has also outlined that efforts to grow local and national economies through procurement will be best served by improving transparency and feedback, building capacity and opening up supply chains. Opening up large contractors in the supply chain to smaller businesses on a fair basis, using models such as, is another recommendation from the Board. Prime Contractors could also drive up value by doing more to open up their supply chains to greater competition.

Further details on the BiP Solutions Strategic Advisory Board’s Ten Essential Principles can be found at:

Q What does the future hold for strategic commissioning?

A The Local Government Agency and the CBI have published a joint report entitled Improving the strategic commissioning of public services as part of a two-year research programme. The report defines what strategic commissioning means; how long-term sustainable improvement in local services can be supported; and how procurement processes and new contract models can reflect the new demands of strategic commissioning.

BiP would also like to invite you to provide your views on the way forward in the first survey and debate of its kind around the subject of strategic commissioning and procurement. Your views on this subject will play an important part in addressing the many challenges that public service delivery in the UK currently faces. To take part in the survey, please visit:

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