The idea

The Government’s response to the public procurement consultation indicates that the Light Touch regime in procurement of social care services will now be retained. Furthermore, in paragraph 121 it suggests that services such as social care may be exempted from competition rules altogether in new procurement regulations. The care system (any/all kinds of care placements that children need while in care) should be one of those exempted sectors.

Such an exemption would be transformative in freeing local care commissioning from the constrictions (real, and perceived) of compliance with procurement regulations. It would also be liberating for councils to be lifted out of the shadow of threats of legal challenge from ‘market competitors’ if they are ‘excluded’ from chances to compete for new business from them.   

Creative, community-led commissioning, and rethinking of how best to ensure best value without resorting to competition, would still be needed if the exemption were declared. We think the Care Bank idea (submitted separately, and in previous Review submissions) would provide a robust alternative public investment framework and oversight body in what could be a turbulent transition from a national competitive market, to a non-competitive locally driven system that puts children’s needs, views and preferences in the driving seat of determining what kinds of care are funded, and who should run them. But the case for exempting children’s social care from competition rules stands alone, to us, and would be of transformative impact even without the Care Bank.  

The impact we hope this would achieve

One of the most significant benefits of freeing the care system from competition would be the ability to build long-term collaborative partnerships for caring well in local communities; and to reverse the short-termism and instability caused by competitive mechanisms like frameworks and spot purchasing. Councils could construct partnerships with (for example) charities, co-operatives of local foster carers and community social enterprises who commit to be part of the social fabric of that community for many years to come. What care is needed, nurtured, adapted and invested in would be a matter for the council and its community to decide and build together – not open to being seen as a competitive market to be ‘broken into’ by any organisation. 

The Care Bank would support creative local commissioning and co-production with children and families because the Care Bank would make sure the money for their care follows each child, so keeping as many children well cared for in their home authority as possible (and commissioning the people, training, support and places to make that a reality) would bring Care Bank funds into the community to pay for them, instead of sending children away from their community to be cared for far from home.