: July 14th, 2008

The Public Administration Committee in its report on third sector delivery of services said that the people who decide on the contents and results of tender exercises are the key to ensuring the right results. It calls for more incentives to encourage talented people to work as commissioners.

The committee is skeptical about the claim about a greater role for the third sector in service delivery, because it can deliver services in distinctive ways which will improve outcomes for service users. It was unable to find any evidence to corroborate the claim. It argues that getting the best out of commissioning will rely on commissioning authorities designing service specifications which play to the strengths of the best placed organizations whether they are in the public, private or third sector.

It recommends that the way forward should be by intelligent commissioning. This is commissioning based on a knowledge of potential providers and of desired outcomes, based on user needs. Intelligent commissioners should be able to make judgments such as whether contracts or grants are the right way to fund a service, how important price should be in determining who wins a contract, and whether there is scope for innovative methods of delivery.

The committee was critical of unnecessarily short-term contracts and suggests that a culture change is needed if the potential benefits of commissioning are to be realised.