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An Arts Professional Feature in partnership with the Cultural Commissioning Programme

Linden Rowley explores who the commissioners of public services are, where to find them and how arts and cultural organisations can best talk to them.

Photo of people in meeting

Hope Fitzgerald

Commissioners are people responsible for identifying population needs and the priority outcomes for individuals and communities. They work with a range of providers to devise a service specification to deliver those outcomes and procure a preferred provider. Commissioners in local public services, which cultural organisations have successfully engaged with, include those in adult social care, children and young people’s services, localities and health. But there are others such as housing, highways, waste management – you might be surprised about the range and diversity of services you could link up with. Job titles vary hugely, as does the degree to which commissioning is integrated across services, but here are some starting points.

In adult social care there will be a director or head of commissioning with managers for the five key user groups: older people, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, mental health and carers. They commission services at a strategic level and have social work teams commissioning locally or signposting those in receipt of personal budgets to service providers. Personalisation and direct payments mean that individual service-users are ‘micro-commissioners’.

Find out the things that preoccupy them, learn their language, join new networks and identify the potential opportunities

Across children and young people’s services there are commissioners in services such as early years, special educational needs, family support, looked after children, youth offending and children’s social care. School improvement may be within the council or externalised to a voluntary agency or public service mutual. Schools or school clusters are also commissioners. This fragments the picture, but the regional network of Bridge Organisations may be able to assist your navigation.

Locality commissioning includes environment, community safety, housing and community health services. Locality or neighbourhood networks provide important platforms for engagement with commissioners. Many bodies commission health services. Public health is now located in local authorities, and public health consultants and specialists have remits for different population groups and functions. They commission services, often in partnership, and many are reviewing their contracts over the next few years to identify new ways of working. They generally have good connections with the voluntary sector, often through small grants, but increasingly through contracts for active lifestyles and health trainers.

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are the new big players. They are groups of general practices that work together to plan and design local health services in England (the alternative guide to NHS England gives a helpful picture of where they sit). They commission health and care services including planned hospital care, urgent and emergency care, rehabilitation, community health, mental health and learning disability services. Some CCGs are looking at non-clinical interventions such as social prescribing and encouraging patients to engage more in community networks and activities. A number of arts and cultural organisations deliver arts on prescription and books on prescription schemes.

Generally speaking, there are two groups of people in CCGs: clinical leads for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory diseases, who design pathways for patient care; and operational leads under a chief operating officer managing the business and commissioning process. Many of the contracts are huge. Providers include hospitals, foundation trusts, mental health trusts and community care trusts, who then in turn commission services from other providers. Many CCGs still use a grants process for their relationship with the voluntary and community sector. Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale CCG has a social investment fund which awarded £2.5m in grants to a wide range of organisations including arts and culture, requiring similar outcomes and evidence as in the commissioning process. Ian Mello, Head of Commissioning and Provider Management, says that the fund is to “stimulate innovation and real community assets springing up that we could develop”.

Commissioners contact ‘the market’ of providers to test ideas. In Bath and north-east Somerset, Basil Wild, commissioner in adult social care and housing, has recently redesigned mental health services. They contracted with Creativity Works and other providers to develop a Wellbeing College of courses in the community which promote self-management and prevention. He said: “It’s a big overhaul and what Creativity Works does is much more in line with how we want services to be run. We want lots going on in the community that people can go to – activities using their mind, their social networks, their support networks.”

GeTIN2Dance, a programme for adults with learning difficulties, works with people on personal budgets. Strategic Commissioning Manager at Durham County Council David Shipman explains: “We identify where someone would get a lot more out of something like TIN Arts than the traditional day service.” As well as delivering great outcomes and high-quality dance, the business model is designed to make it simple for users with personal budgets to directly ‘commission’ services they want, and gives TIN a sustainable revenue stream to provide a continuous service.

Manchester City Council’s approach is an example of locality commissioning. Hazel Summers, Head of Strategic Commissioning for Children and Families, and Cultural Manager, Jo Johnston, have worked together for five years integrating culture into neighbourhood working. Starting from a community budget pilot in Ardwick they have worked across the city bringing the cultural offer into services for older people, pathways used by health trainers and are now designing how culture will contribute to work with troubled families.

The best way to meet commissioners is to do some initial exploration in your area of interest or expertise. Go along to forums or events and meet service-users, managers, commissioners, providers and politicians. If you are stretched, you could share the load by identifying a representative from your networks to do this on behalf of all. Find out the things that preoccupy them, learn their language, join new networks and identify the potential opportunities. As Project Manager at Creativity Works, Phillipa Forsey, explains, it is essential to be proactive in keeping relationships current: “The key is listening, making sure you’re on the various strategic forums, the health and wellbeing networks, so you understand where people are coming from and what they need to achieve.” You’ll be amazed at what you will discover and commissioners will be amazed to discover you.

Linden Rowley is the provider of phase 1 of the Cultural Commissioning Learning Programme, and is also supporting the Cultural Commissioning Locality Projects.

The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three-year Arts Council England funded programme which supports the arts and cultural sector to engage with public service commissioning, and also works with commissioners to raise their awareness and understanding of how the arts and cultural sector can help deliver their outcomes. It is delivered by a partnership of National Council for Voluntary Organisations (lead partner), NPC and nef.

This article, sponsored and contributed by the Cultural Commissioning Programme, is in a series exploring opportunities for arts organisations, museums and library services to engage in public service commissioning.

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