In Part 1 I talked about the showy arrival and the shambolic departure of Supporting People in England.
In Part 2 I’m taking a look at the three big lessons we’ve learnt after 12 years of Supporting People.
1. Don’t get hooked on SP funding…it is just that…a funding source and not why your organisation exists
As a sector we got hooked on the seemingly never ending supply of Supporting People funding that was around and this made us lazy.
Instead of focussing on the difference our services made to people’s lives and the value to a range of other agencies and stakeholders of our focus on prevention we became increasingly passive. We let ourselves believe that the case for what we did had been made. Instead of being proactive and continuining to make the case for our services to a range of stakeholders we focussed on preparing for the next tender opportunity to come along. We established bid writing teams, then sat back and waited for the next edition of Inside Housing and the lists of tenders announced in its back pages.
There’s no denying that in the early days of SP the quality of many services improved.
The initial round of the QAF (Quality Assessment Framework) and service inspections did weed out a few rogue providers and got all of us on our toes. But it wasn’t long before the answer to the question “what should our service be like?” became little more than “what do SP say?”. We stopped listening to what our service users told us because we were too busy listening to what our Commissioners told us at Provider Forums or Best Practice Workshops.
2. Don’t let yourself become a commodity…keep innovating…trying new things…being disruptive to the dead hand of corporate procurement:
Providers went from being energised, problem-solving innovators to docile ‘yes-men’ queuing up to compete with others on price – innovation limited to finding new ways to drive down costs so we could offer services for ever lower prices.
This left us at the mercy of fickle bureaucrats and politicians.
We were obliged to complete increasingly pointless forms and reports – from quarterly returns to self-assessments – which were all neatly filed away and never read.
Tender requirements have become more and more elaborate as the value of the contracts has become smaller and smaller. The last tender we completed was 32,000 words long – and that was before we’d written anything. What was the ‘prize’ we were trying to win with all those words? A contract worth just £35,000.
The more of a commodity we’ve became the less interest even our commissioners ssem to take in us.
When we told one local authority that we were giving notice on our contract they had no idea what we were doing for them….for their £450,000 a year…so they sent someone out to shadow us to find out what they were actually buying with all that tax payers money!
3. Do keep asking ‘Why?’ Why does your organisation exist? Why do you do what you do? Why do you come in on a Monday morning? And I bet it’s not just to do what it says on page 63 of a Supporting People contract.
Imagine if SP rang you up and said you could throw away their contract. That you could do what you wanted, how you wanted, to have the biggest impact on the lives of the people you serve.
What would you do?
How would you change your service?
Would you even provide a service?
If you’re not sure what the answer to any of these questions is then perhaps it’s time you asked yourself why your organisation exists; what value it brings to the world.
In Part 3 I’ll tell you what we’re doing at Bromford.