I’ve never been a public sector commissioner but I’ve worked alongside many over many years. I’ve been tinkering with this post for a long time – updating, amending and editing it. I was unsure about whether to publish it but as we start to go into the election year and think about what might change here are a few of my observations on commissioning. They’re all subjective but based on what I’ve seen over the last 20 years.
1. Not everything in the private sector is bad. Not everything in the voluntary sector is good. Not everything is the public sector is impartial.
2. We might not use basket weaving anymore but beware of people still being institutionalised in the community at public expense under the guise of supposedly trendy, innovative projects.
3. Commissioners are rarely able to use the power they have to effect real change. If the opportunity arises grab it with both hands!
4. It’s better to close a project than to repeatedly cut it’s funding.
5. If a service is producing outcomes you like and trust reward them.
6. Be clear about what you want to achieve. In mental health this is even more important. If it’s everybody’s business then in reality, and when costs are involved, it tends to be nobody’s.
7. Vague ‘quality of life’ outcomes give you flexibility but make it almost impossible to hold providers to account on the impact they’re having.
8. Go out and find the small, completely voluntary groups who are doing real grassroots work. This is where you will often find true innovation.
9. Small contracts can make a huge difference. ‘Worthiness’ shouldn’t be judged on cost.
10. If you award a grant with no conditions attached don’t be surprised if you don’t get what you expected.
11. Some outcomes take a long time to achieve. Be upfront and reflect this in your contract lengths.
12. If you have concerns investigate them properly. Your gut instinct is probably right.
13.There will never be enough money to go around so somebody will always be unhappy with you.
14. By all means keep up with commissioning best practice but don’t let it distract you. Good commissioning needs good common sense.
15. Be as honest as you can about what you cannot achieve because of political pressure.
16. Every few years everything should be put up for re-tender. If you don’t ask, you won’t know what others options are available.
17. Invest in your commissioning team. You have a big job and to do it properly requires skilled, passionate and capable people.
18. Don’t put people into boxes or silos. Individuals needs cannot always be split into different commissioning ‘streams’.
19. Don’t allow compliance, risk management or health and safety to prevent you taking a chance. Find ways around it.
20. Be Brave!!!!