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Keeping it Local – A five-step guide

370 Tony Armstrong high res edit resize 635816283071811470Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, discusses how new guidance for councillors and commissioners on taking a ‘Keep it Local’ approach to public services can save money and achieve better outcomes. 

This year is going to be a crucial year for local authorities. Years of shrinking budgets and rising demand mean pressure is mounting and many vital services are under threat. Good commissioning is essential in responding to these unprecedented challenges – but we are seeing many local authorities unwittingly creating an environment that wastes money on inefficient contracts, discriminates against local providers and fails to create the services we need.

At Locality, we understand the immense pressures faced by local authority councillors and commissioners, and are working with them on practical ways we can achieve better commissioning. So much so, we are now launching a practical guide for both councillors and commissioners that shows how taking a ‘Keep it Local’ approach to public services can both save money and achieve better outcomes.  

Many councils are responding to the huge pressures they are under by going large: standardising services, scaling them up, and outsourcing contracts to big national charities and multinational companies. But this approach introduces complex and inefficient contracts and often uses more resources than a larger number of smaller contracts. What’s more, big companies and charities frequently fail to address people’s complex and individual needs, adding to demand pressures as people come back time and again for help when their needs aren’t met. 

Instead, commissioning should aim to make public service delivery ‘local by default’ – providing active support for local providers and more tailored services for local people. 

This creates better services. Services need to respond to a wide range of often very complex needs, but big, centralised, provider-led public services are incapable of responding to the subtle nuances of everyday life or building the communities of care that are central to long-term wellbeing. 

It also enables councils to save money. Much of the demand on our public services is due to ‘failure demand’ – problems are not properly addressed when they were first reported, so people re-present at multiple services for the same problem. A Keep it Local approach uses smaller, targeted investments and works with communities, which reduces costs by tackling problems at source. 

Crucially, ‘Keeping it Local’ also builds stronger communities and economies. Commissioning and procurement is central to the wider success of the local community and a key contributor to the local community. Commissioning local, community-led organisations is an investment in local civil society, in particular by ensuring communities are economically resilient. Local charities act as local economic multipliers, ensuing the wealth they generate is redistributed in their neighbourhoods, by employing local people and promoting local businesses. 

So a ‘Keep it Local’ approach means councils can create better services, save money, support their local economy and build a strong community. Here is Locality’s five step guide for how to do it in practice:                               

  1. Take a place-based approach, to co-ordinate siloed services and utilise the full range of local assets. Bring together services and don’t commission specialised services in isolation.
  2. Demonstrate social value, maximising the potential of the Social Value Act to ensure that social value is accounted for across commissioning and procurement decisions. Specify the kind of social value you want to see (e.g. local employment and training) and prioritise organisations which demonstrate local knowledge and connections.
  3. Commit to building community capacity, with a proactive and positive commissioning strategy that explicitly aims to support local organisations. Bring organisations together to deliver a range of services.
  4. Impose a maximum value on contracts, to level the playing field and ensure that contracts aren’t out of reach for smaller organisations from the outset. Use grants, which are more flexible, and don’t use payment-by-results, which can exclude smaller organisations.
  5. Involve local people through co-design, where the expertise of the professional combines with the experience of the user to create more effective services. Put the service user first, seeing them as partners, not problems.

Every place is different and so is every person. So we need a rich diversity of local organisations, which are embedded in the places people live, to provide the right services, in the right place, at the right time. Locally-focussed commissioning provides a better alternative to standardised, one size fits all services – supporting local communities, maximising the value of limited resources and inspiring excellence in public service provision.

We want councillors and commissioners to join our Keep it Local network, which will provide a space to share and learn from good commissioning practice across the country, as well as receiving updates from our research. To find out more and sign up to join, visit:


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