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Why create and develop public service community partnerships?

  • To achieve positive outcomes for people and communities.
  • To address complex issues and create services to meet people’s needs.
  • To put social value at the heart of your commissioned service.
  • Read more here.

Who can initiate a public service community partnership?

  • Public Service Community Partnerships can be initiated by a public authority or through an approach by an innovative social enterprise to a public authority offering a new solution.
  • At their core is an alignment around public benefit – we call this “purpose-alignment” – and other common shared values and themes.

Where have such partnerships been successful?

What about procurement rules?

Too often, procedures are used as a barrier rather than an enabler of purpose.

Many of the ingredients in an effective PSCP are simply good commissioning practice. But in many public authorities some entrenched cultures and ways of working can hold things back. These include:

  • A view that everything has to go through procurement
  • The belief that it is inappropriate to engage with providers to explore and test ideas
  • Misplaced perceptions about the capability of social enterprises
  • Attitudes to risk
  • “We’ve never done it this way before”
  • Internal obstacles from colleagues in procurement or legal teams
  • Genuinely poor practice (as opposed to low-awareness)

“Despite the best efforts of all involved, commissioning processes can detract from “Best Value” as the primary focus of public service commissioning. Procedure can become a barrier to outcomes-focused or purpose-driven commissioning; many organisations struggle to embed “social value” into contract specifications; best value can be equated to minimum cost and commissioning is often limited to contract procurement.” Julian Blake, Stone King.

Commissioners and those responsible for the delivery of services can mitigate these problems if they fully understand the purposive, permissive and facilitating nature of regulation. This message was central to E3M’s influential 2016 publication, The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement, published in 2016 (pdf, opens in new tab).

Its authors Julian Blake and Frank Villeneuve-Smith wrote how:

“those who get their heads around how to commission strategically and use procurement as a tool to deliver meaningful change are going to have the edge. Doing what has always been done because that’s how it has always been done is an approach parked at the bar of the Last Chance Saloon.”

Julian Blake and Frank Villeneuve-Smith, The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement

Thanks to The Art of the Possible more and more commissioners have grasped the concept that progressive measures are possible in public procurement to design and deliver services with purpose aligned organisations. These include public benefit partnerships and working with social enterprises, co-operatives and community businesses – the “new Economy” – to provide services which meet community needs, individuals’ complex needs, and produce better outcomes for communities.

But for Public Benefit Partneships to succeed it’s crucial to understand these five fundamental correctives for Practical Public Service Reform and Innovation.

Other departments are standing in my way – how do I get them on board?

When commissioners want to work with purpose-aligned partners the process is frequently challenged by colleagues in procurement and legal departments. Typically, arguments of process and regulation are used to prevent or as barriers to commissioning for social value, not as the enablers they should be. And once a junior legal advisor is on board and understands the permissive nature of the regulations to allow, not prevent, commissioning for value, their senior colleagues need to be convinced.

We’ve witnessed a common pattern when a public authority or a social enterprise proposes a partnership-based approach. Once commissioners like or are in support of such an approach, and are in discussion with progressive, purpose-aligned partners, momentum suddenly grinds to a halt when someone shouts “stop – there’s a procurement issue.”

At this point commissioners should identify an appropriate path, such as:

  1. Use of a restricted process under the Light Touch Regime (see an example in our detailed Leicestershire Children’s Innovation Partnership case study here). The Public Contract Regulations 2015 allow for negotiated and restricted processes which should be adopted if a “good quality open competition is not possible.” Social and environmental value are key elements, with quality and price, in the “Most Economically Advantageous Tender.” If contracting for social, health and education services, commissioners can design and run a procurement process however they see fit under the Light-Touch Regime, as long as it complies with:
  • Principle of proportionality: the cost of participating in the procurement exercise should be proportionate to the value of the services. 
  • Engagement of the willing: if only a few organisations can deliver what you require, broad tenders are unnecessary.
  • The principle of transparency: the competition process should give equal and fair treatment.

2. Is this a Unique Proposition? If the contracting authority believes there is only one suitable supplier or partner able to deliver a specific service / specific outcomes it can publish a VEAT (Voluntary Ex-Ante Transparency Notice).

3. Can a co-investment be made in which both parties are putting in capital or necessary elements to the project? This can be built as a co-investment project which is NOT subject to the procurement rules applicable to service contracts.

4. Use the Innovation Partnership procedure (see an example in our detailed case study of Oldham’s Social Prescribing Innovation Partnership here). Introduced under an 2014 EU Public Contract Directive, the Innovation Partnership may be used when there is “a need for the development of an innovative product or service or innovative work and the subsequent purchase of the resulting supplies, services or works cannot be met by solutions already available on the market.”

The great fear of (legal) challenge should be answered through exercising responsibility professionally, and acting in a “reasonable” way. Julian Blake, partner at Stone King, explains what this means in this short video:

Q&A from Toolkit launch webinar on 11 May 2021

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What else do I need to think about?

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