As part of the government's agenda for public service reform, local authorities have been asked to review their provision of support for young people and many are in the process of determining the structures and approaches that will shape delivery for the future.
Ofsted's report An Evaluation of Approaches to Commissioning Young People's Services identified some of the difficulties faced by local authorities and youth organisations. It found that commissioning has developed at a varied pace within the areas visited.
Inspectors visited 12 local authority areas and met representatives from national organisations involved in commissioning services for young people.
An important issue identified was the confusion that exists between commissioning and procuring. Commissioning is the process for deciding how to use the total resource available for children, young people, parents and carers in order to improve outcomes in the most efficient, effective, equitable and sustainable way. Provision can be commissioned from within local authorities as well as from external providers, and can be a mix of the two. Procurement is the process of acquiring services.
The report found that insufficient consideration was being given to engaging alternative providers from the voluntary and community sector, charities, or other arms of the public sector such as social landlords.
The local authorities that created a culture of shared values, even in a competitive environment, saw more success. Constructive conversations well in advance of commissioning decisions provide organisations a chance to discuss the experience and resources they can bring to young people.
There was evidence of good planning by some of the local authorities and organisations visited, which promoted improvement and co-operation.
Young people's participation in service design, delivery and monitoring featured in all of the areas visited. In the most effective examples, young people were given unique opportunities to learn about local democracy, how councils operate and how to represent the views of their peers.
The report comes in the midst of a challenging financial climate. Most authorities visited were planning reductions in staff. These structural changes in staffing had on occasion made it difficult to plan long-term and, worryingly, monitoring arrangements took insufficient account of young people's learning and achievement. The absence of national and regional comparative benchmarks frustrated the attempts of local authorities to measure value-for-money impact.
It is clear from the study that there are differing operational models. While different approaches brought different advantages, the best approaches reflected local circumstances and priorities, and took account of existing relationships, available resources and geography.
COMMISSIONING YOUNG PEOPLE'S SERVICES: THE KEY FINDINGS
- Only five of the 12 local authority areas visited had sufficiently well-established commissioning arrangements for youth services.
- In most cases, local authorities were not giving sufficiently impartial consideration to new providers as part of their commissioning processes.
- However, examples were seen where a well-managed commissioning approach had provided young people with a greater range of better targeted activities.
- Creating a collaborative culture of shared values across organisations within a local area is as critical as getting the technical aspects of commissioning right.
- In the less effective local authority areas, the process of commissioning was poorly understood; confusion between procurement and commissioning impaired planning.
- Structural changes within local authorities made in response to the current financial climate had acted against long-term planning in the areas visited.
- Lack of clarity about the legal and financial implications in relation to liabilities such as employee pensions were inhibiting decision-making within the local authorities.
- Practice in relation to young people's participation in commissioning activity was often good.
- Monitoring arrangements took insufficient account of young people's learning, achievement and progress.
Miriam Rosen, acting chief inspector, Ofsted
Download the report at cypnow.co.uk/doc