skip to Main Content
Looking to read the latest articles? Please click here
Coronation Learning For Children’s Commissioning?

Coronation learning for children’s commissioning?

The coronation brought with it discussion about the form of sovereignty, a monarchy or a republic?
They are different ways of governing. How you see it determines how you arrive at your conclusion.

Learning for children’s commissioning
On the one hand continuing commissioning is supported as pragmatic by some.

On the other hand, by another ‘some’, commissioning is seen as inefficient and ineffective and a change is necessary.

Between the two polarisations is the analysis of the current situation between local authorities and providers being characterised by in-fighting, buck-passing, with the current lack of resolution bringing collapse sooner or later.

That ‘sooner or later’ cannot be allowed to happen. Imagination is needed. Thinking is necessary, John Pearce ADCS President has suggested that DfE may want to rethink their proposals around regional care cooperatives.
The rethink is necessary as there is widespread agreement that something’s got to change. But not what that change would be.

What would you put in place of current children’s commissioning arrangements?
First do we need to start in this place?

No. Other countries don’t, and are not in the situation we are. They spend more on children’s services. Governments make decisions on priorities.

So we don’t have to have the discussion of the pragmatics of making the best/most’ of what we have/get. It doesn’t have to be priority this or priority that. A combined sector campaign could be conceived. Collaboration of a different sort. Collaboration towards the general good.  An old saying was ‘Be reasonable: Demand the impossible’. Campaigning for what is needed is to step outside of the currently constructed reality, which, by being the result of decisions is not a natural phenomenon but a created cultural economic artefact.

The current situation can (and must) be changed

This blog explores the terrain and concludes with a starting point.

Current commissioning starts from asserting state power (national/local government) as sovereign.

Power flows top down, not upwards.The national and local state have taken the authority to determine contract terms and conditions through their own contracts and those of regional frameworks.

In this way the Care Review Regional Care Cooperatives are a reshuffle of existing power relations and locations. It seeks to strengthen existing power, reducing accountability through administrative bureaucracy. (The sociologists amongst us might be considering the application of Weber’s insights here? Bureaucracy bolsters the dominant power relation).

However accountability is actively asserted from another source, of providers, through spot purchasing. This power is sovereign too but not of the Royal or Parliamentary kind.

If a market is allowed to exist by the state it is inevitable it cannot be accountable. It will not be accountable to the national and local state. The idea of caps or quotas or only working with ‘patient capital’ inevitably leads to a reduced supply and this increases cost through scarcity. This exists now under market conditions as the regulations are perceived by providers to hamper delivering appropriate care for some needs. Two things occur, another unregulated market is developed ( one not within Supported Accommodation as the children need care), and places/homes are created by LAs that are not part of the market; the national and local state intervene in the market with their own homes, raising the cost of market and non-market homes.

There is another practical and possible path.

It requires commissioning becomes a ‘republic’.

Republics require a democratic architecture where power grows up from the base of ‘popular’ sovereignty, liberty, equality and fraternity for all parties. Purchasers accepting equal status with providers/practitioners, and both accepting equal status of recipients of the outcomes of the contract, an equal value, virtue and voice for Children Looked After (made possible by the integration of the UNCRC into the contract).

Ostrom, nobel prize economist would call this approach Common Pool Resourcing. This sovereignty has institutions within which there is an equality of participants having written rights which are difficult to amend. A written constitution is the supreme ‘law’, and offences can be tried in a ‘supreme court’ type institution.

The National Contracts Steering Group with an agreed membership equitable of all interests (it begins to sound very like Social Partnership that is incoming in Wales?) would create an agreed contract, gain approval by all, and act as the supreme chamber where requests for review and adjudication would be taken, all applicants knowing the authority rests in common ownership of the contract and the relations/ships that stem from it. The NCSG’s first responsibility would be governance followed by administration. The NCSG would be made of representatives of the state and providers, practitioners a voice for the first time), regulator, children’s rights organisations, and importantly (also for the first time) Children Looked After/Care Experienced people. On this basis the NCSG could become the National Commissioning Steering Group whenever there is a shift to ending a market based system. This new NCSG would be working from evidence of audits of need and planning, trend forecasting demand and arranging supply, acting as a national best practice disseminator.

Reluctance to delegate downwards is deeply monarchical. Sovereignty is presumed and then assumed. The LAs determine the interpretation of the contract used  There being no way to curb the sovereignty of state power providers act outside of it, using spot purchase. Such unilateral unsanctioned decentralisation could be abolished in an instant. The state knows that to do so now would be to create chaos as long as the current commissioning stays with a market system.

Subsidiarity, the basis for a republic, may only be possible without a market. Ostrom says not, but it requires values operating where no-one operates to undermine or undercut or exploit another.

So where to start? To get us thinking and talking.

We need to look at principles. Principles determine the pragmatics. There has been recent interest in the work of the moral, legal and political philosopher in the liberal tradition John Rawls.

Rawls looked to social arrangements that were to be structured so that the greatest possible amount of liberty is given to its members, limited only by the notion that the liberty of any one member shall not infringe upon that of any other member.

Secondly, inequalities – either social or economic – are only to be allowed if the worst off will be better off than they might be under an equal distribution.

Finally, if there is such a beneficial inequality, this inequality should not make it harder for those without resources to occupy positions of power.

This would have our social work/care established and deliver from an altogether different definition and determination of ‘the most appropriate placement’ and ‘the matching principle.’

There are imperfections in Rawls’ work. We can redress them, add to them (most probably), or we can find other principles.

In the rushed introduction of commissioning we never paused to consider the principles.

The pragmatics of children’s commissioning would be very different. In the pause ADCS call for we have an opportunity to reconsider.
We can look again at the role and function of children’s commissioning as an expression of the widest agreement, and we can move on from the imposed definition and arrangements of now two decades ago.