6 April 2021

Collaborative procurement brings benefits to social care

Healthandcare.scot takes an in-depth look at the full picture of social care tendering

Jennifer McKerrall, our Strategic Programme Manager for Social Care, spoke to healthandcare.scot about the benefits procurement brings to social care in Scotland: 

“At the most basic level we help councils and health and social care partnerships (HSCPs) reduce inefficiency by avoiding multiple organisations conducting the same exercise over and over again.

“When you are talking about 32 local authorities, 31 HSCPs, we are freeing up time for social care practitioners by dealing with the contractual issues for them – once, and on a national basis.

“A social worker can look at the list of providers who have already undertaken that exercise to join our framework and, when sitting down with a person to choose a provider, can say to them ‘here are the ones on the framework: there’s already been a degree of due diligence done, they’ve already met our standard, they’re all here and ready to use’.”

Addressing the view that competitive tendering should evolve more towards collaborative commissioning, Jennifer told healthandcare.scot:

“I think the issue is about understanding what aspects of the competitive process are problematic. And that is looking at cost as the primary factor.

“I think there can be some consideration of cost so long as it is balanced well with other factors. We have to be realistic about how difficult it is for people not to consider cost when they are looking at contracts given how difficult the financial pressure is. But it is understanding what parts of that process are problematic and taking steps to avoid it.

“There is a lot of criticism of competitive tendering and procurement in social care more generally and I think that doesn’t necessarily give the full picture. There are some problematic practices where you’re talking about competitive processes based primarily on cost – particularly where there is some negative impact on the workforce – and indeed the person receiving the care.

“So, in Scotland Excel, for example, one of the frameworks where we did consider cost as part of the process was for our Agency Workers Framework. We didn’t want any considerations of cost to negatively impact the workforce, so we broke down the costs into two different aspects: the hourly rate that is paid to the worker and the fees retained by the agency. And our commercial assessment was only based on the level of fees retained by the agency so that there was no incentive in that framework for an agency to keep the cost low in terms of what is due to the worker, we know that if the worker receives a fair rate, then the service is good.”

And on the point of collaboration as we move forward, Jennifer added:

“Our approach is collaborative. It has to be. It is driven by a whole range of stakeholders. Scotland Excel is not in a position to make decisions in isolation. We work closely with a whole range of partners involved in the delivery of care such as care practitioners from councils and HSCPs, and the representative bodies for care providers.

“I think that’s what collaborative commissioning is about, making decisions that are informed by an appropriate range of stakeholders.

“The direction of travel in both the Feeley review and The Promise in children’s services following the Independent Care Review is quite clear – the expectation is around greater collaboration and less competition.

“I think we will see less ‘bog standard’ open tenders and more people moving towards the approaches the Review talked about like public social partnerships and alliance contracting.

“Already there’s work going on looking at the social care workforce and I think a key role for Scotland Excel going forward will be ensuring that our frameworks, and our work more generally, supports and drives the agreed outcomes of these work streams.”

Jennifer McKerral’s interview was carried out by and published in healthandcare.scot