According to Kilminster and Clarke ‘all the aces are held by people who ain’t got faces’ – discuss.

Leading on from Mark’s post on Co-production I want to look at perceptions and truths around how transparent commissioning is.

Anecdotally we often hear views that services are commissioned, tendered etc. without any reference to users, to the provider, delivery professionals or communities in general.

Why is this? Are local authorities, health, police and central government still intrinsically still paternalistic and how has different politically driven policy changes changed society’s view on the “nanny state”. We look at the attempts over the last 20 years including:

  • Back to Basics – From the Major administration
  • Changes in FOI and data protection legislation – Blair administration
  • Devolution  and community rights - Coalition
  • Red tape challenge and Open data/transparency – Coalition

How far have these policy changes enabled real co-production and co-design of services for the benefit of communities, by communities, for communities.  Rightly they have allowed communities to ask questions and seek information and answers to questions. But do these changes allow access to those commissioners who are designing those very services?

Do any of these policies make the engagement and understanding of the commissioner ask any easier?  What are the policy and the statutory barriers to co-production and how should we work together to overcome these barriers? We look at our own processes in Cornwall Council and already we can see how problematic it can be sometimes to even engage with commissioners internally, never mind the aspiration to work in a co-production way with our partners and providers.

 In my experience, there a number of enlightened commissioners who plough the furrow of co-production; However to the majority of providers and the communities they serve, the rest are arguably invisible and still appear to hold all the aces.

Taken from All the Aces by Motorhead - Ian “lemmy”  Kilminster and Edward Clarke

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There a probably a number of reasons that commissioning remains a difficult area to transform. Below are a few I think are worth considering. They are of course my own observations and not necessarily the views of Citizens Advice Cornwall. The blame culture In a blame culture when something has not happened the way it was meant to then somebody must be to blame and sanctions must be applied - this produces a culture of risk aversion or preferably risk elimination. If you don’t take any risks then you can’t be blamed and the best way of not taking risks is to do nothing new. Think of it as a game called ‘alternative pass the parcel’ - in the original party game the object of the exercise is to be holding the parcel when the music stops in ‘alternative pass the parcel’ the idea is that you do not have the parcel on your desk when the music stops, as you will have to carry the can for any issues that arise. Understandably people are reluctant to innovate or experiment in case they are caught holding the parcel when the music arbitrarily stops. ‘We have always done it this way’ or ‘the rules say’ become stock defences to the threat of change. Remove the blame culture and you get innovation, positive change and co-operation. Keep the blame culture and you kill it off. See the article below Command and control Often the desire to be seen to be managing resources and processes effectively leads to a culture of micro-management that requires the officer in charge of the budget to control every aspect of its expenditure. Partly out of a fear of being blamed if something go wrong and partly because there is not necessarily sufficient trust between the commissioning body and the service deliverer. In ‘command and control’ mode the commissioner not only determines what has to be delivered through the contract, but also how it must be delivered and when. In effect they become proxy project managers. This again stifles innovation but also leads to the feeling of not being trusted or even looked down on by the service deliverer. It is also discourages service deliverers from highlighting problems or discussing shortcomings with the commissioning body for fear of losing funding. Failure then stops being a tool from which to learn but a potential stick with which to beat people. In the famous Cleese, Barker and Corbett sketch about class the role of Barker could easily be played by the Public Sector and the role of Corbett by the voluntary sector, Cleese being private enterprise. Watch the sketch with this in mind. All change is bad news In the period following the second world war local authorities grew in both size and influence – this saw an extension of the principles ideals of the cradle to grave welfare state applying to local authorities; where every aspect of local life could be catered for by the Council. Since 1979 this principle has been in reverse with more and more public sector work being done by the VCSE. Since 2008 the pressure on public finances has meant that nearly all change in local authorities has been about costs savings and job cuts. The result of this is that all change is viewed with suspicion as it is invariably linked to reduction of roles and an increase job insecurity. Internal reform is extremely difficult at the best of times and it is probably too much to expect that people will contribute in a positive way to a process that is likely to make them redundant. There is no recorded incident in history where turkeys have actually voted for Xmas. Does Nanny really know best? How much pressure do we put on commissioners to be perfect? In order for commissioning to work the commissioner needs to know exactly what the end users want and need now and what they will want and need in the future. They then need to know how these needs can be met and in what quantity they need to be delivered and then how much this will cost. This leads to a prescriptive model of procurement where the commissioner and their procurement agents create a world view that while probably inaccurate make managing the process easier. In reality markets are complicated and to some extent unknowable – customer demand can be contingent on many issues that may or may not be on the commissioner’s radar screen. Having a clear idea of what you want to end up with - the outcome - is far more valuable than knowing how it needs to be delivered. For a wider discussion on the future of commissioning see below$FILE/EY-Public-service-commissioning-brochure.pdf