Savings of £2million have secured a shortlist place for a prestigious national efficiency award thanks to a partnership project launched by Croydon Council in 2013.
The Local Government Chronicle Awards provide national recognition of best practice and are one of the ways that councils across the UK discover and adopt new and better ways of working.
The South London Special Educational Needs Commissioning Programme was initially set up between Croydon and three other London boroughs as a way of improving the ways that services are bought in for their children. In just two years it has expanded to include six additional boroughs and is also working with four county councils and one city council. Member boroughs have seen an average 1,768% return on what they’ve invested to be part of the scheme.
The need for the partnership, which is now the largest sub-regional group in the country in the field of special educational needs, arose after it was recognised that increasing demand and dwindling budgets were likely to pose a big challenge for councils trying their best to help all children reach their full potential.
Changes introduced by The Children and Families Act 2014 were predicted to drive up demand at a time when the population was known to be growing. This, coupled with new EU procurement regulations, a history of procurement that was largely ad hoc, and the knowledge that austerity measures were going to be set to drive down public spending, made it clear a new approach was needed.
Croydon therefore took the initiative to start work on creating a partnership which could create both economies of scale and improved negotiating power. This enabled them to move away from a situation where providers of services had been able to largely dictate their own terms.
As more councils look to find ways of saving money by working together, the programme clearly demonstrates how it is possible to deliver real efficiencies without having to cut services.
Along with making financial savings the partnership’s members have also benefited from developing better relationships with their suppliers, improving their commercial acumen, and securing better choice for children, young people and their parents. The flagship programme has also received recognition from central government with the Department for Education commenting that “The South London SEN Commissioning Programme is an extremely influential example of good practice for local authorities who want to manage the pressures on their budgets while following the spirit of the Children and Families Act”. Those leading the programme have also been asked to work on both national contract frameworks and on helping to develop their proven model in order to allow even more regional commissioning of services.
“It’s fantastic to be on this shortlist because at a time when the UK government is cutting its funding to local authorities there has never been more of a drive for efficiencies and savings. Having got this far we are determined to keep working together to improve our processes still further, as one thing we are now sure of is that we are stronger working together than alone.”
Councillor Alisa Flemming, cabinet member for children, young people and learning
The winners will be announced on 16 March 2016.