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Influencing commissioning

This page is free to all

This page covers how charities can influence decisions about the commissioning of local public services. It is not about influencing politicians, public policy or campaigning to, for example, save a public library or an A&E department from closure.

How to influence commissioning decisions

Racheal Jones of Knowsley CVS shares some top tips in our free Studyzone course on influencing commissioners and decision makers.

Our What is commissioning page outlines the commissioning cycle, and the different points at which charities can be involved.

Ways of influencing commissioning

Strategic decisions about services

There are various mechanisms in local areas for influencing decision-making. However, these strategic groups are not the place to fight the case for funding of a particular organisation. These groups or forums are more interested in the experiences of the local population as a whole, and whether local services are meeting their needs.

  • Your local health and wellbeing board should have a member who is responsible for the voluntary sector, and they should be able to raise issues on behalf of local organisations. This would usually be someone senior from your local voluntary sector support organisation, or council for voluntary service, or it could be a member of your local Healthwatch.
  • Many areas have a compact implementation group, or a similar group which supports good partnership working and relationships between statutory agencies and the voluntary sector.
  • Some local authorities will have a children’s trust board which brings together cross-sector representatives to coordinate local children’s services
  • A recent development are 44 sustainability and transformation partnerships covering England, which bring together different parts of the health system to work out ow to make local services more efficient and effective. There is usually voluntary sector representation in these partnerships, and those people can help you influence health commissioning. 
  • Also, there are likely to be informal networks, such as an older people’s organisations forum, or a sexual health forum. Your local voluntary sector support organisation (or council for voluntary service) should be able to inform you about these.

A specific contract opportunity

When planning a new service, a commissioning authority might hold ‘market testing’ or ‘market shaping’ events. These are ideal opportunities to find out how a commissioning process will work. There may also be events which are designed to help commissioners work out the kind of service they wish to commission. Being involved in these early discussions will:

  • help you influence how the service is commissioned
  • give you insight that will help you bid
  • put you in touch with colleagues from organisations that you might wish to explore working in partnership with.

Do not underestimate how important getting involved in this activity is. If the first time you hear about a contract opportunity is when it is made public, your chances of being successful in bidding for that contract are minimal, as you are up against organisations that have been working with commissioners to plan and design that service.

Some organisations even work with commissioners at the very earliest stages of planning a new service, which could be two to three years before a service goes live. How would you get yourself included in these conversations? It is sometimes incorrectly thought that engaging in these discussions could preclude organisation from bidding to deliver later – this is not true.

Giving voice to local residents

Commissioners usually want to ensure that any services they commission reach residents who experience disadvantage or barriers to taking up services. Charities working at a grass-roots level are often in touch with exactly the people commissioners want to reach, and have useful insight into how to engage with those residents and meet their needs.

Is there scope for you to negotiate a contract to deliver this service to your local commissioner?  For example, you could:

  • bring local residents to a meeting to evaluate a service
  • arrange for local residents or to do mystery shopping of a service
  • bring service users to offer their insights and experiences to the planning of a new service.

In a market environment where community organisations lack core funding, it should be expected that a commissioner would pay for such activity.

Types of commissioners

Public bodies

Traditionally, commissioning of services is carried out by public bodies such as local councils (or their departments such as public health or adult special care), NHS organisations (such as clinical commissioning groups), and some newer bodies such as office of the police and crime commissioner.

You might also find that an NHS provider trust holds a large contract for delivery of a particular service, and they may be looking to grant-fund or subcontract activity from community-based organisations.

Private sector as commissioners

The private sector is increasingly involved in managing service contracts on behalf of public bodies. For example, in the field of probation services, services are run by community rehabilitation companies, and many of these are led by consortia involving private-sector companies.

If you are used to speaking ‘public sector language’ and doing business in a ‘public sector’ way, you will need to adapt your approach.

Voluntary sector as commissioners

Larger charities or consortia often hold large contracts to deliver a service across a county or group of boroughs or districts, and they will be looking for partners to deliver services through subcontracting arrangements. It is important that you know if there are consortia in your area. If not, you and colleagues might need to invest time and energy into creating a consortium to bid for large contracts. You should allow at least a year for this to be successful.

Further information

Using evidence to improve health outcomes. This briefing provides an overview of the knowledge, expertise and insight that voluntary and community organisations may hold about their local communities, as well as the different ways this knowledge can be used to enhance joint strategic needs assessments (JSNAs) and commissioning

Engaging with Health and Wellbeing Boards

Regional “Who's Who" Guide to support voluntary and community organisations make contact with people in the health and care structures in each region.

A suite of briefings to help the VCS understand and influence the health landscape

Police and Crime Commissioners

Using data to support a commissioning case (NCVO webinar and resources)

Page last edited Jul 19, 2019

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