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Press release: Councils should adopt a more collaborative approach to commissioning services for young people

09 Aug 2011

Ref: NR2011-31

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A report published today by Ofsted has found that local authorities are not always considering the voluntary and community sector, charities, or other arms of the public sector, when commissioning services for young people.

The report An evaluation of approaches to commissioning young people’s services also identifies some of the difficulties being faced by local authorities and youth organisations.

Inspectors visited 12 local authority areas and met with representatives from key national organisations involved in commissioning services for young people, including national charities, independent local voluntary sector providers and infrastructure organisations.

Commissioning is the process for deciding how to use the total resource available for children, young people, and parents and carers, in order to improve outcomes in the most efficient, effective, equitable and sustainable way.

The local authorities that created a culture of shared values, even in a competitive environment, saw more success. Constructive conversations well in advance of commissioning decisions provided local and national organisations a chance to discuss the experience and resources they could bring to young people.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Miriam Rosen, said:

'Youth services play a vital role in young people’s educational and social development. Different approaches to commissioning services bring different advantages, however the best approach should reflect local circumstances and priorities, and take account of existing relationships, available resources and geography.

'Local authorities should take a lead role in creating a shared approach to commissioning. In a time of rapid change and reducing budget, maintaining local networks of practitioners and other local organisations will be extremely valuable.'

As part of the Government’s agenda for the reform of public services, local authorities have recently been challenged to review their provision of support for young people. Many are in the process of determining the structures and approaches that will shape delivery for the future. The report comes at time when local authorities and other organisations are working in a challenging financial climate and most of the local authorities visited were planning some reductions in staff. These structural changes in staffing had on occasion made it difficult to plan long term and, worryingly, monitoring arrangements took insufficient account of young people’s learning, achievement and progress. The absence of national and regional comparative benchmarks frustrated the attempts of local authorities to measure value for money impact.

There was evidence of good planning by some of the local authorities and organisations visited which promoted improvement and cooperation. Examples were seen where local authorities had made considerable effort to have discussions with providers, with a positive response.

For example, Cumbria County Council adopted a process of commissioning that encouraged collaboration. The partners, often through their own subcontracting arrangements, had protected very local and small-scale provision, developing the capacity of the smaller providers and thereby maintaining the range and diversity of provision for young people. Given the relatively small budget dedicated to youth work, collaborative working between providers and the local authority enabled them to attract more and varied sources of external funding.

Young people’s participation in service design, delivery and monitoring featured in all of the areas visited. In the most effective examples, young people were given unique opportunities to learn about local democracy, how councils operate and how to represent the views of their peers. Merton Borough Council held focus groups with young people to identify the services needed. Young people then visited providers who reached the final tendering stage to talk directly to people already using their services and meet the staff. These visits provided a unique insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the different organisations.

Notes to Editors

1. The report An evaluation of approaches to commissioning young people’s services can be found on the Ofsted website at  www.ofsted.gov.uk.

2. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

3. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

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