Pilot projects in Kent and Gloucestershire have revealed procurement approaches are leaving arts and cultural organisations at a disadvantage, according to NEF. 

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Rick Harris (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Arts and cultural organisations hoping to bid for public service contracts are being disadvantaged by commissioners’ procurement approaches, according to a report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF).

Supported by the Cultural Commissioning Programme, NEF evaluated two 18-month pilot projects in Kent and Gloucestershire, where the NHS and local authorities used art and culture to improve services across a range of clinical pathways including mental health, cancer and diabetes.

The report, which aims to help commissioners improve outcomes by engaging with the arts and cultural sector, concludes that existing systems “are often not fit for purpose” and recommends changing the way organisations are funded.

NEF found procurement approaches tend to advantage larger organisations. Some framework agreements require a lot of time and resources to be spent upfront, which may be difficult for small- and medium-sized arts organisations. The report recommends dividing framework agreements into lots or encouraging consortia bids to reduce the administrative burden.

The report describes the arts as “not a luxury, but a necessity” for a public services model built on preventing harm and reducing the need for acute services. It warns that the arts sector “has not been given the chance to fulfil its potential”.

It identifies a number of challenges that arts organisations face, including:

  • Not being included in engagement events;
  • Overly defined service specifications, which reduce the opportunity for innovation;
  • The requirement for new providers to supply evidence of the effectiveness of their approach.

The report recommends commissioners focus on outcomes, rather than specific services and outputs, and develop a new range of indicators for monitoring and evaluation to reflect this. It says commissioners should work with arts organisations to understand how they monitor impact and reassure them that a range of evidence is acceptable.

It also highlights the need for commissioners to raise awareness about the value of arts and culture within local government and the NHS, and to build arts and cultural organisations’ capacity to bid for work.

A photo of Frances Richens