There is a real fear of speaking out about commissioning
Last month, I spoke about how my organisation had lost out on a contract following ‘extremely bad commissioning’ by the local probation trust.
Since then I’ve been approached by a number of charities who have cited similar experiences of extremely bad commissioning. Birmingham Settlement’s experience is clearly not an isolated case. Commissioners putting ‘cost over client’ and not understanding the services they commission is not such a rare circumstance.
There is also a growing trend of national charities who think it acceptable to “take out” locally-based organisations and “asset strip” their staff, because they want the market place for themselves – behaviour many of us find unacceptable.
But there is real fear about speaking out.
One of the main problems is the reluctance of commissioners to admit they’ve got something wrong. Public bodies rarely admit to mistakes and if challenged, they tend to embark on long and costly legal battles. Local organisations fear to speak out because they often need to negotiate with those public bodies again.
The main issue here isn’t about us losing a contract. It’s about the depersonalisation and erosion of services that focus on the needs of real people; charities up and down the country working with, and in the heart of communities will die or be partly subsumed by large, impersonal nationals geared up for multi-million pound contracts concerned with numbers, not people.
Those nationals will cherry-pick the competitive (successful) elements of organisations who need those parts to generate innovation and income to subsidise and sustain the key work they don’t get funded for. The added value that settlements and similar organisations bring through local knowledge, skills and understanding built up over years will be lost, along with the innovation and enterprising spirit that has seen the establishment of so many good things.
We need to make our voices heard – and it can work. If enough of us keep hammering on the door, eventually someone will hear – we work with people, not numbers. Remember the bigger picture, highlight your case and fight your corner – isn’t it our role to challenge?
Martin Holcombe is chief executive of the Birmingham Settlement