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Guest blog: What does 'commissioning' actually mean?

Posted: Friday 8th September 2017
Blog: 2017
As the name suggests, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) commissions services – be that policing from the Constabulary, support services from the voluntary sector or solutions in partnership with other agencies. However, it is often a word which brings with it some confusion. We like NHS England’s explanation that ‘at its simplest, commissioning is the process of planning, agreeing and monitoring services’ and I think that explanation fits well with all three of these scenarios. Three of us within the Office of the PCC (OPCC) are Commissioning Academy Alumni and back in 2014 spent a few months with commissioners from up and down the country, understanding and applying these theories.

In this blog we aim to share some examples of what commissioning is for us in the OPCC by talking about some of our existing projects, what we are aiming to achieve and some of the ways we work.

Everything we commission from the OPCC is informed by the priorities and principles of the Police and Crime Plan. Crucially, this includes our relationship with the Constabulary as provider of policing services. We also have a strategy which informs how we work. Some of the larger projects we have undertaken include:

-          Victim Services – following the devolution of funds from the Ministry of Justice to PCCs, we commissioned local services to meet local need. This involved mapping existing services, undertaking a needs assessment, consider our intentions, engaging on those intentions, and then following a procurement process. This saw the creation of a raft of new services, including Lighthouse to support victims of crime and ASB who are vulnerable, intimidated or persistently targeted.

-          Arrest Intervention Referral Service – following the introduction of PCCs and changes in how funding was allocated, we saw an opportunity to commission drug and alcohol intervention in custody in a different way. Namely across the whole of Avon and Somerset, providing a better and more consistent service. We are now in the process of re-commissioning that service, jointly with NHS England who currently commission Liaison and Diversion services in custody.

The Commissioning and Partnerships team within the OPCC have recently reviewed the forward plan ahead of some important milestones so that we are match fit for a very busy period:

-          Commencement of the joint regional commissioning of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) with NHS England – an engagement exercise is running over the summer so that stakeholders can have their say. These services are commissioned by NHS England with the OPCC as a co-commissioner and a procurement exercise will commence once all feedback has been reviewed to inform specifications.

-          Following the end of the engagement period, the start of a joint procurement with NHS England for courts and custody referral services.

-          Conclusion of the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) procurement – this has seen Barnardo’s be awarded a contract to support victims of this crime across Avon and Somerset. Service implementation and monitoring will shortly begin as the new service is delivered.

-          We are currently consideration our forward plan for Victim Services re-commissioning as we have now entered the third year of our current agreements and contracts.

Once services have been planned and put in place the work doesn’t stop there. Monitoring continues through the life of the agreement and to reflect on the three examples given at the very start of this blog, this may be for example: Meetings with the Head of Lighthouse Victim and Witness Care, Contract Review Meetings with Providers, or partnership Boards. This part of commissioning is important as it helps to ensure that we as commissioners have evidence of the intended outcomes and can work with service providers to continually improve services and work through any issues that arise.

Outcomes and outputs are often confused and we are very clear in the OPCC that we are outcomes focussed in our commissioning. We may know that x number of victims received a service in a given time frame (output) which gives us assurance in terms of completion of the activities we are paying for but that alone does not tell us if that service actually made a difference. To understand that we need to know the outcome. The Ministry of Justice asked PCCs to commission services that help victims to cope and then recover from the crime or Anti-Social Behaviour. The chart below is from an individual victim and shows the distance travelled from the start of their time with a support service to the end, in five key areas. You can see in this example that in most areas they made positive progress but in terms of the Criminal Justice system, they had a bad experience (their case was dismissed at court).

Health and wellbeing chart

Similarly, case studies help to bring facts and figures to life - read more here.

Commissioning is interesting as it takes a problem, works with experts to put in place a solution and then tracks that through to see the impact. Often, the outcomes we are seeking are not down to one agency alone (as above example shows the victim service provider has no influence over the courts and the impact that process can have on the victim). This is particularly evident in joint commissioning. We have been able to undertake some exciting projects as an OPCC with some highly valued partners. One example would be the commissioning of a specialist support service for victims of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). This followed the West of England CSE victim identification and support service which was funded by the Home Office Innovation fund. When the Home Office funding came to an end we worked with our partners across the top tier local authorities of Avon and Somerset to develop a match funding approach which has now secured a new specialist service for the next three years, meeting the shared outcomes of all commissioners.

One of the most exciting elements of the CSE commissioning process was the inclusion of service users - young people who had themselves received support from the West of England service - to ensure they had a say in shaping the service and evaluating bids which came in from potential providers. This is really important to us in the OPCC as there is no one who knows what is needed from a service better than those who actually use it. The input we received from the young people really helped us as commissioners to shape the service and the feedback we received from them was that being part of the process meant they had a real stake in how the future service will be delivered. You can read the report which was put together from the sessions with young people here.

If you’d like to know more about commissioning in the OPCC please get in touch.


Marc Hole, Head of Commissioning and Partnerships

Alice Jones, Senior Commissioning and Policy Officer

Amy Hurst, Senior Commissioning and Policy Officer

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