Yesterday in a post, I described as “brave” the decision of commissioners in Brighton and Hove to award contracts for substance misuse and rough sleeping services to organisations from outside the City. The word ‘brave’ was used to convey the idea of a step into the unknown. The previous provider of both these contracts (not BHT) is a well-established and respected organisation with good local knowledge, relationships, infrastructure and commitment.
Time will tell whether the decisions of the commissioners were the right ones, particularly relating to rough sleeping where an expectation of a 20% year on year reduction in the number of rough sleepers is built into the contract. With the numbers on the street increasing, achieving that target, at least in year 1, appears to be challenging.
I don’t make special pleading for contracts to be awarded to local organisations because BHT is local, but because of the added value that ‘buying local’ brings.
The City Council, for example, should recognise that, notwithstanding a recent improvement in its standing with the public, it enjoys comparatively low levels of confidence compared to charities and community-based organisations. The Council should do more to validate the role played by charities and other community groups (which after the Fire and Rescue Service enjoys the highest levels of support/confidence of the public). The City Council should ensure that locally-based organisations are supported, not least because of the added value they bring by their local infrastructures, local knowledge, long-term commitment to the area, and established relationships.
There is some excellent commissioning locally, some not so. It works at its best when commissioners work in partnership with the charity and community sector, respecting our expertise and experience. For our part, we have to accept and adapt so that we can deliver the strategic objectives to which the commissioners are working. The commissioners, in turn, should leave it to providers to decide how we will deliver contracts and those strategic objectives.
BHT has, itself, moved into new areas of work over the years. The words ‘Brighton’ and ‘Housing’ in our name hasn’t always been welcomed when we began, for example, to deliver an adult education project outside Brighton. But we have been very careful to engage and work with others well established in these localities, and we have not waded in with our size 12’s pretending that we rule the roost or know best.
By all means, commissioners should select the best organisation to deliver a contract, but that judgement should be based on more than price, and should give due consideration to social value including local infrastructure, local knowledge, long-term commitment to the area, and established relationships. These things take years to establish. This added value might not always be delivered by those attracted to the area by relatively short-term contracts.