Friday, August 10, 2012

The dangers of outcomes based contracting models

As the Barnett Government and the funded not- for- profit sector in Western Australia move to adopt outcomes based contracting models for the delivery of human and community services, the evidence from the UK demonstrates the danger to the sector of such models.

The use of outcomes based contracting models- such as prime or lead contractor models and payment by results models- within the UK Government Work Programme is having devastating impacts for small agencies and disadvantaged service users.

The UK experience is that outcomes based contracting and procurement- in its many forms- results in Governments, or the agents of government, moving public money into bigger contracts and bigger services, which increasingly are awarded to large private and multinational corporations  such as SERCO G4S, A4E, Virgin, Ingeus (There Rein's company) and Capita to name but a few.

The majority of contracts are won by large for profit corporations who claimed that they would sub-contract smaller local not- for- profit providers to deliver tailored specialist services, however this has not happened.

Many of the smaller not- for- profits were used as "bid candy" to enable the corporate providers to tender for and win the contracts and were promised work as sub-contractors. Such work (and income) has not eventuated and even when it has major delays in being paid have severely affected the income and cash flow of small agencies.

The result is that more and more smaller agencies are having to shut down due to cash flow problems and loss of income. And the closure of small agencies with specialist knowledge and expertise and strong local links directly impacts on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged clients.

The Third Sector, an online  publication for the sector reports that:
Eco-Actif Services, a community interest company based in Sutton, south London, and Red Kite Learning, an education and learning charity in Southwark, south London, both closed in July and blamed the government’s move to large-scale payment-by-results contracts.

Lin Gillians, chief executive of the LVSC, said: "Over the past two years, longer, larger contracts for employment programmes have been almost exclusively awarded to large private sector providers.
"The intention was that specialist voluntary and community sector providers would deliver tailored support as subcontractors – however, as time goes on we are seeing this specialist provision disappear.
"This raises enormous concerns about the quality of support available to the thousands of Londoners facing serious or multiple barriers to work."

The homelessness agencies the Single Homeless Project and St Mungo’s have also withdrawn from the Work Programme in recent months, citing problems with the way it is run.

Gillians said: "The government urgently needs to review the impact of this commissioning model on disadvantaged job seekers and special employment providers before more damage is done.
"This isn't about blaming the Work Programme or prime contractors – it's about providing appropriate support to give everyone a fair chance to work."

Brendan Tarring, who founded RKL 25 years ago, said: "The Department for Work and Pensions needs to reassess its one-size-fits-all mentality and acknowledge that individually tailored employment support for vulnerable jobseekers is best delivered by innovative mid-sized charitable organisations."

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