The Government's Green Paper, "Transforming Public Procurement", which launched in December 2020 is something that many social care providers won't have been spending time thinking about given that many have been hit much harder by the second wave of the pandemic.  However, for years providers up and down the country have bemoaned the approach to procurement within social care and longed for a more flexible approach, with examples of creative work with commissioners few and far between.

As a result, the Green Paper could present an opportunity for the sector. It seeks to simplify the existing public procurement rules into three:

  • a new flexible procedure that gives buyers the freedom to negotiate and innovate to get the best from the private, charity and social enterprise sectors.
  • an open procedure that buyers can use for simpler, ‘off the shelf’ competitions.
  • a limited tendering procedure that buyers can use in certain circumstances, such as in crisis or extreme urgency.

The move to a more flexible approach which leads to more innovative and imaginative proposals will be very welcome if it works out that way in practice. However, one bugbear of providers is the use of Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) by commissioners which often drive a race to the bottom on price and fragment the local market. Of concern to social care providers will be the proposal to create a DPS+ which is said to be "a flexible, highly commercial tool ideally suited to providers of agile online and other dynamic marketplaces." Does that apply to social care?

Our view is that how to improve procurement within the social care sector to deliver the best outcomes for people being supported won't have featured in the Government's thinking when drafting the Green Paper. Our procurement lawyers are working away on a technical response to the consultation. However, we consider the consultation gives an opportunity for the sector to try and shape the future of procurement within social care.  

As the deadline for response is tight we are suggesting providers focus on addressing two key questions in the consultation:

Q8. Are there areas where our proposed reforms could go further to foster more effective innovation in procurement?

Q9. Are there specific issues you have faced when interacting with contracting authorities that have not been raised here and which inhibit the potential for innovative solutions or ideas?

We are sure that providers will have stories of both the good and the bad in procurement and taking some time to share these in response to the questions above could help shape an approach to social care procurement that has the needs of people you support at its heart.

The consultation questions can be reached here, and many of the umbrella bodies we work with will be collating responses on behalf of their members in advance of the 10 March deadline.