We can hit the target, without missing the point

Chris Wright
Thursday, April 16, 2020

Now is the time for commissioners, government and the voluntary and charity sector to show their flexibility.

The decisions the government makes on our behalf in the next few weeks and months will likely decide what we value and how we will live for the next few years. The £750m charity package is an important step, one that could save many important organisations and the people they exist to help.

Before Christmas, Catch22 pledged as part of its pre-election manifesto to use government procurement to support new ideas, and to continue to support charities and social enterprises which have helped to transform our public services.

If we want transformation of delivery, if we want to deliver sustainable improvements in life chances for those we support, how do we make sure this isn’t as short-lived as we hope the lockdown will be?

In March, I wrote to Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary, to urge all public bodies and commissioners - both within central and local government - to relax contractual targets for grants or contracts with voluntary, community and social enterprises.

I also urged them to maintain open and honest lines of communication – and as service providers we must do the same if we want to see commissioners consider, with more imagination than is usually used, what outputs and outcomes from services should deem the service a success.

The most recent Cabinet Office guidance provides relaxation to contractual key performance indicators and procurement rules and this could be monumental for social change – now we must demonstrate how this can positively impact services, both within the coming months, but also in the post-pandemic world.

In the early days of this crisis, we have already seen three major themes which are, and should, shape the future of our work with commissioners:

  1. Relationships
    We are working to rebalance contractual relationships, demonstrating mutual value and shifting focus from increasing activity to increasing impact. A healthier model is the difference between a “market” approach which serves profit over purpose, and an approach to commissioning based on reciprocity, mutuality and trust which drives social value and serves the needs of people first and foremost. A contract should be about two organisations coming together to realise a common purpose. Catch22’s CSE service in Merseyside is using its close relationships with commissioners, police and other partner agencies to rapidly adapt its service during the Covid-19 crisis – referrals for the most at risk young people are still happening, one-on-one video support is in operation, and the team’s work with parents and other guardians is now a means of providing wrap-around support while vulnerable young people are confined at home.

  2. Trust
    The adaptability already being shown by commissioners in the current climate shows what is possible. We are seeing a new recognition of what is fair, such as the shifting of payment schedules. The actual and reasonable cost of a service is being considered, putting social value at the heart of the delivery. This could be transformational, if we can prove the short-term impact and see it continue. In 2016, Catch22 delivered Beam House respite centre for child refugees leaving Calais. We set it up in 72 hours and the system rallied round and made things happen at a rapid speed, based on trust.

  3. Community
    We must collaborate effectively as sectors; private, voluntary and public – this is a time to pull together to achieve fundamental change. This is not about self-protection and narrow interests. We need to find ways of unlocking the capacity that exists wherever it exists and, in this time of huge challenge, we must seize the opportunity for sustainable system-change. For example, Fact22 was developed at a time when local authorities were given the power to innovate in response to the needs in their own communities – our social care service has successfully resolved major caseload issues and the model is being absorbed into these forward-thinking communities.

We are continuing to think about what the most effective next steps will be, given the universal agreement of the need to draw on positive practice, from both providers and commissioners.

We know that this isn’t anything particularly new – we, alongside many colleagues working across the sector, have been talking about these issues for many years. The innovative solutions this wider capacity can provide to tackle some of the biggest societal problems are too often held back by process over purpose in commissioning and procurement arrangements. 

The force of this crisis has required a major shift, with the spotlight now back on purpose. Let’s capture what we know is working, so that we can shape the post-crisis system.

  • Catch22 is working to bring together the positive examples that are already being seen since the new Cabinet Office guidance came into force last month. If you have exemplary case studies to share, please get in touch.

Chris Wright is the chief executive of Catch22

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