Partnership structures (with the commissioning models seeking prime vendors)
Discussion feedback taken from SEEE's A Conversation with Social Enterprise event on Friday 23rd October at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge.
Discussion on the subject around partnership structures with the commissioning model seeking prime vendors and looking at things such as mergers, consortia, acquisition and the profile of how things are at the moment and what the key issues are.
Certainly from the round the table, one of the key constraints and obstacles highlighted was that a lot of the public sector contracts are getting bigger, there bringing together previous grants and previous contracts into one larger contract. These larger contracts by their very nature do need more partnership and consortia working. This brings all the sorts of challenges that consortia working has around convening and coordinating a partnership and helping capacity build where required some of the smaller organisations.
The experience from the table and particularly around Hertfordshire was that within the contract there are no management costs, there's no costs around that whole convening and supporting it's all about project delivery which in itself does cause problems. This then leads to the usual suspects and same partners working together and actually limits the opportunities for partners to get together and look at ways to innovate or work more creatively to actually address and question some of the previous delivery and previous services. This is seen as a real constraint at the moment.
There is a feeling that there is a lack of going out to the market in terms of looking at contract and looking how those tenders could be developed. There is lack of going back to first principles, going to the community and local voluntary sector and local deliverers of services to see what are the needs of those key beneficiary groups?
It was felt by the group that all the potential of the Social Value Act such as the co proof and co design aspects of the Act was maybe being lost because all commissinoers are focusing on the end point.
The group felt that there is a culture of distrust building between small medium voluntary sector/social enterprise and larger vountaryl sector and social enteprises. A building divide, some suspicions in some areas. The group questioned how can we get people to think 'let's work together on this to see how we can all benefit from the opportunities to both improve services for local people and actually work together more effectively'
Alison Reid CEO of Community Dental Services responds
There seems to be capacity constraints for commissioners. They just want one person to negotiate with. The difficulty is the time line between you entering into a formal partnership arrangement between the release of the tender and the ITT is normally very tight . This suggests they are containing the market and we don't know how to challenge this. We don't have a connective voice for saying you cannot realistically expect a consortia partnership to be established in one week of one month and have it as a serious commitment will all the appropriate governance to then respond to an ITT and being a clear about the content of the activity . I think sometimes we are not very good in collectively getting back together and saying 'has that been a fair and transparent process' or actually is it playing to an already established set of partnerships that they are aware of. If generally it is happening within a month is it not going to be an open process.
I think the other point being made is how we can establish these things and we were just starting to have that conversation about what is happening in the Manchester Systems. One of the responses from small medium VCSEs in Manchester is to set up a partnership of 9 providers to work together and inter trade between each other. They set up even when there was not a project to start with because they said actually they have to do it before something comes up and they say it might not involve all of us all of the time but our commitment is to support and build. And there has been some challenges out there whether it is anti-competitive and the partners have all said you can challenge us if you like but we have set this is up in a genuinely quasi market you know we wouldn't commission from each other if we weren't competitively placed but how else are we going to be able compete again the 200/500 million pound business that you seem to be touting for and you such as Virgin care.
If you are operating in health and social care sector there is a big group of corporate international businesses to compete against and they don't have the same embedded ethos as social enterprises.