The Commissioning Academy is playing its part to build our nation’s future

David Sparks, LGA Chair 2014Councillor David Sparks OBE was elected Chair of the LGA in July 2014. David was Leader of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council between May 2012 and December 2014. He worked as a career adviser in Birmingham for over 35 years and served on the board of the Advantage West Midlands RDA.

This is part of a series based on NCVO’s manifesto, A Bigger Difference.

There’s a fair chance you care about commissioning, given you are reading this. We are in the minority. Most people will be left cold by the word. Yet I would argue that commissioning can make a more tangible difference to the quality of people’s lives than almost anything else. I was delighted to hear NCVO’s support for the Commissioning Academy, which we at the LGA helped set up. I think it does crucial work, and here are the reasons why:

Local commissioning holds the key to financial sustainability

Our 100 Days campaign “Investing in Our Nation’s Future” makes the case that the current way of governing our country is broken, and expensive. Local councils have already dealt with a cut in core funding of 40 per cent since 2010. They have worked wonders to protect the quality of the services they deliver but they are running out of road. In the face of a funding gap projected to be over £12bn by the end of the decade, a new approach is needed.

We believe that if decision making power is devolved to local areas and an incoming government adopts our other ‘100 Days’ proposals, we could save £11bn on the cost of the public sector. At the same time councils could, among other things, build half a million more homes, reduce long-term unemployment by a third and offer every child a place at a good local school. High-quality local commissioning gives us the opportunity to save money and invest in the next generation.

Local commissioning has to be good commissioning

The key phrase, of course, is ‘high quality’. This is where the Commissioning Academy comes in. If we are placing our trust in local people to design the way public services are provided from the ground up, we must give them the skills they need. The academy, alongside our partner offer for elected members, is doing some great work to create another generation of councillors and officers who understand how to build new public services in all their complexity. Importantly this will involve not just getting the best out of the private sector, but also looking to charity and community groups for answers too. The emphasis the academy places on us all being able to learn from each other is vital, so that we can take full advantage of the best thinking out there.

Good commissioning will deliver what people care about

Our ambitions should be high. It’s not about doing more with less; it’s about doing better with less. Whether people care about commissioning or not, they definitely care about how well their mum is looked after in her home or what’s wrong with their local leisure centre.  NCVO is absolutely right to highlight the importance of understanding what our residents need from any service, and what it feels like for them. Why would you consider creating public services that don’t actually respond to and serve the needs of the public? For me this could also be a step towards a bigger goal.

If we get this right, we not only ensure the things that make a local community tick are done well and are sustainable for the long term. By making sure we give a voice to those who are affected intimately by the decisions we take, we have a chance of fostering a more healthy democracy too.

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