A tender process

The consultation period for the Government’s green paper on commissioning closed yesterday. YAWN! But for anyone working in Supported Housing commissioning has been a real bugbear since 2003 when the Supporting People grant was introduced.

A typical supported housing set up involves a building owned by a large Housing Association (HA). They contract out the housing management (collecting rent, allocating tenancies, evictions, etc) to a smaller managing agent, typically a local charity. The managing agent also provides support to the residents under contract to the local council. Additionally there may well be other funding streams, often from social services.

So lets say the large HA carries out a tendering execise for the housing management contract – as Places For People did in 2008. If the small charity had lost the housing management contract the result would have been having two seperate organisations working in the same supported scheme, one providing support and the other doing housing management. Chaos! Incidentally, during the tendering PfP sent out a spreadsheet revealing the addresses of every supported scheme they own in the country, including those for vulnerable young people and women fleeing domestic violence. Oooops!

It is worth noting the outcome of the PfP tendering exercise was every single support provider had their contract renewed, which indicates the commissioning process was something of a complete sham.

When the council tries to tender out the support service the reverse is true. If the existing support provider loses the bid the result is they’re still contracted to provide the housing management at the scheme, but someone else does the support. Chaos!

Now the reader is probably thinking so what – what’s so wrong with having different organisations performing different roles? Think of a tenant in the scheme getting into rent arrears. Who supports them to sort it out? The organisation with the housing management contract or the organisation with the support contract? It’s incoherent for the staff and confusing for the client. And the money never stacks up with the roles being separated.

This has led to councils attempting to persuade HAs to take on the council’s choice for the support provider as the HA’s managing agent, not understanding the HA has their own view on who should manage property on their behalf.

Now there are plenty of good examples in floating support of separation of roles but when it comes to providing schemes it’s always better to keep the two together. As a result since the introduction of Supporting People in 2003 – a full seven years – no council has carried out a successful tendering of Supporting Poeple funded accommodation that I’m aware of.

The only example I’ve come across of a council tendering out the support contract on a supported housing scheme the council failed to inform the bidding organisations there was a building attached to the support – they pretended it was a floating support scheme. Which resulted in raised eyebrows all round in the aftermath.

As an addition the experience of the supported housing world of the tendering process – even for simple floating support contracts – is:
– it’s expensive
– it’s time-consuming
– organisations can win by bidding on price but then provide very poor services
– it leaves frontline staff permanently insecure
– contract monitoring is a big problem for both the commissioner and the provider

I understand why the government is pushing tendering out but I don’t think they have a grasp of the real world problems.


One Response to A tender process

  1. inks2010 says:

    I just came across this on the Guardian site, the story of the award winning Icini project in Ipswich facing closure because the commissioning process didn’t favour its size.

    Worth a read if you’ve got a few minutes.

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