Magazine article Public Finance

Time to Work Together

Magazine article Public Finance

Time to Work Together

Article excerpt

The government is focusing its attention on public procurement. Council buying is under the microscope and the latest policies emanating from Whitehall are all about aggregating purchasing power and harnessing modern technologies to generate efficiency savings.

Everyone agrees that better procurement can be valuable when it comes to buying furniture or computers. But can it improve the delivery of important public services?

The government believes it can, and a fresh priority for the National eProcurement Project is to help introduce new ways of buying into the field of social care.

It's a complicated and sensitive area. Social care concentrates on delivering guality services to the most vulnerable people. If you are ordering an office temp and they don't show up, the filing doesn't get done. But if a social worker temp fails to show, then people don't receive the care they urgently need.

There is a perception that new procurement practices in social care would be about driving down costs and could damage the quality of services. There is a concern, too, that new processes will slow down response times and hold people up.

These views are understandable, but not based on the experiences of a few innovative authorities. Cambridgeshire County Council is using mobile-based technologies to assess the care needs of the elderly.

Assessments can be done online in their home and beamed back to the office, where requests for resourcing are then triggered. It is more efficient, is saving money and it doesn't require people having to travel awkward distances to a council building.

Kent County Council has an online system that enables it easily to book beds in residential homes, whereas in the past staff would have had to spend ages ringing around.

So it is quite possible to bring modern procurement practices into the area of social care and have a positive impact on service delivery.

Outdated practices also mean many social care departments run the risk of disappearing under mountains of paperwork.

The introduction of basic eProcurement techniques - such as e-lnvoicing - could save time, make the whole process a lot simpler and clearer, and leave people free to concentrate on strategic care priorities.

If an authority stops to examines its spend on care providers, there is a good chance it will find a far higher number of suppliers than it had imagined, and that some are probably working outside of standard, agreed contracts. There is a need for councils to develop a flexible range of care packages and tender for their provision. …

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