Lloyds Bank Foundation recently published an important national report on the impact of so called ‘commissioning’ on small and medium sized civil society organisations. I can’t say I read the report with any great surprise because it confirmed what experience tells us here at Leeds GATE. Commissioning is a mess. Not only is it a mess but it is actually threatening the survival of many of the small local organisations who provide help when vulnerable and struggling people need it most. Available funding is being scooped away from local providers and into the coffers of the largest charities and those with large enough budgets to have staff dedicated to tendering for contracts.
We fed into the LBF research with a case study of how local public health had commissioned for cancer awareness raising among key vulnerable groups. Our members were named as target groups for the work. Public Health had funded our organisation to develop local relationships with our members, developing effective techniques for engagement, and learning directly about what works in sharing health messages, via ongoing contracts for over a decade. We are a PQASSO accredited organisation with a track record of submitting accurate financial information and regular detailed contract reports to the authority. We have no wish to be a gate-keeper, or to ‘do all the work ourselves’. But you might think that these existing relationships would be exactly what a commissioner would be looking for in seeking an effective way to use a small amount of money?
Honestly, although it took days of work to complete the tender documents, we pretty much thought it must surely have our name on it. Of course the commissioners would recognise that such sensitive work which highly vulnerable communities would be best done on the basis of existing relationships of trust and personal awareness that they themselves had been supporting for years?