Rhiannon Bury from Inside Housing has reported that officials from 10 Downing Street recently held “a hastily assembled meeting with providers…..to address government fears that smaller organisations – seen as vital to employment and economic growth – are being squeezed out of local authority supported housing contracts. Large providers could be forced to sub-contract supported housing contracts to smaller organisations, under crisis growth plans drawn up by the government.
The intervention was a response to ministers’ concerns that the average 4.4 per cent cut to council budgets and the 11.5 per cent cut over four years to Supporting People funding are forcing town halls to increase the size of contracts to generate economies of scale, making it difficult for smaller providers to compete.” (Find the full article here http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/care/number-10-steps-in-to-save-small-providers/6520597.article?PageNo=2&SortOrder=dateadded&PageSize=10)
So the government has decided to play matchmaker by ensuring ‘small providers’ are not left on the SP shelf. In recent years I’ve worked in a number of sub-contract arrangements with a range of small providers and in my experience they are a bit like marriages….they work best when there is a real sense of partnership, good communication and, well love may be overstating it, but certainly mutual respect. The idea that the vulnerable people who need and use supported housing will be best served by ‘shotgun wedding’ style sub-contracted provision is rather laughable.
Like the users of any service, what customers of supported housing want is friendly, knowledgeable staff, who treat them with respect, listen to them and use effective systems to do what they say they will do. None of these things is predicted by the scale of the support worker’s employer.
Bromford’ s experience is that small providers can be good, bad and indifferent (as indeed can larger ones).
But one thing is for sure; sub-contracting adds costs and blurs accountability. Lots of small providers may create jobs but they are likely to be expensive, non-value-adding jobs. Each organisation will want to retain its own CEO, finance manager, HR team etc. which all draw resources away from the actual provision of support. Someone has to manage the sub-contract, ensuring the service gets delivered and performance data is returned, adding further cost and bureaucracy.
So why has government suddenly come over all protective of ‘small providers’?
Some of it may be down to political pressure from local councillors who are trustees of local charities with long histories. The government is right, however, to conclude that small providers are struggling to compete in the world of large-scale tenders where it’s all about who can provide the most hours of support at the lowest hourly rate. But that is a problem best addressed by commissioning around outcomes rather than inputs. Commissioning based on outcomes will reward innovation and the ability to respond nimbly to change and that’s exactly where small local providers may come into their own.