Commissioning in Crisis was conducted by the Foundation in a bid to better understand the processes behind the commissioning of public services from the perspective of small and medium-sized charities. Small charities are affected by a push towards large-scale contracts and a decline in grants.
This research highlights how the current commissioning system prevents small and medium-sized charities from competing fairly, leaving them at increased risk of closure and decreasing the delivery of public services to those who need it most.
This report brings together the experiences of small charities who have taken part in 120 tenders, evidencing a catalogue of errors and unacceptable hurdles small charities must overcome to continue supporting local people in need. The findings reveal widespread patterns of poor commissioning practice across England and Wales that centre around the following three issues:
- Understanding: lack of knowledge by commissioners about the service they are commissioning and the needs of individuals can lead to practices which trivialise local expertise and shut out those with the skills and knowledge to meet needs effectively.
- Specifications: aspects of contracts and tender specifications can automatically exclude smaller charities.
- Processes: the processes commissioners follow can inadvertently impede on providers’ ability to bid effectively and successfully, particularly for small and medium-sized charities who have very limited resources and capacity.
As a result, small charities are struggling to respond to bureaucratic, complex and inappropriate requests by commissioners, that discriminates against small charities based on their size. Yet, small charities are not alone in the challenges they face. The report also recognises that commissioners themselves are under increasing pressure with ever-tightening budgets and fewer resources available to meet communities’ needs.
The report identifies key recommendations for both local commissioners and Central Government that aim to reform commissioning to make it work for those who meet needs locally.