Give communities greater control over commissioned services, says think-tank

11 Jul 19

Public sector bodies should involve communities more in their decisions to commission services, a think-tank has said.

The government should tweak the regulatory framework to encourage public sector bodies to hand over commissioning powers to local residents, the New Local Government Network has said.

 “Although emerging good practice in commissioning seeks to involve service users in different ways, the initiative and power rests with the public service professional within the institution, rather than with people and communities,” the NLGN report released on Monday said.

But it added giving communities greater commissioning power would only work “if public services challenge their tenancy to hoard power and instead find ways of sharing it with communities”.

‘Community commissioning’ was a follow-on report from the NLGN earlier in the year, ‘The Community Paradigm’, which set out a case for communities having more of a say in their own futures. 

NLGN’s latest paper argues there are four key questions public sector organisations should consider when moving to a model of community commissioning:

  • If the community will be able to commission ‘core’ services as well as ‘discretionary’ services
  • Whether residents in the whole of a geographical area will have a say in a service, or only those that have a particular need or interest
  • How commissioning power will be transferred to the community
  • What level of commissioning powers the community will be given.

The NLGN also suggested local residents should be handed control over the Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace European Structural Funds communities currently get from the EU.

“After Brexit, to support the government’s commitments to enable communities to take back control, the Shared Prosperity Fund should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment”.

The report also presented four ways in which commissioning power could be transferred to communities:

  1. A public sector body allows a community to shape a service through open conversations with community members
  2. A public sector body sets up meetings with communities, where they can discuss services
  3. A public sector body sets up meetings where communities make decisions that must be acted on
  4. A community is given full, or close to full, legal and governance control over a specific service.

The paper concluded: “Government has a major role to play in encouraging the public sector to adopt a community commissioning approach.

“Some of this comes down to relatively minor tweaks to the regulatory framework to taking a proactive approach to promoting or requiring public sector bodies to hand over commissioning power to their communities.”

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