Social Care Procurement – Can Younifi Help In Hugely Challenging Category?

What is the most challenging “spend category” in the entire UK public sector?  And what is the most important in terms of its impact on the citizens of the country?

There are two good questions to pose to anyone working in the public sector procurement. I suspect ten people might give you ten different answers. Major construction programmes such as HS2?  Pharmaceuticals? Military defence hard ware – aircraft carriers and so on? Welfare to work or prisoner rehabilitation services (both of which can have a huge impact on thousands and thousands of lives)?

But another strong candidate for the “prize” in both cases is social care. That encompasses home-based care, ranging from what we used to call “meals on wheels”, to specialist equipment, to carers who may well perform some medical tasks too. It also includes care and nursing homes where the state is paying the bills.

The latest data we’ve seen suggests that this is about a £43 billion a year sector. So purely on a size basis, it is enormous – bigger than the scope of all the “common categories” that Crown Commercial Services is trying to address for central government, for instance. It also has a huge impact on millions of people, form the direct recipients of care to their friends and families and of course the hundreds of thousands of workers in the sector.

That all plays into our argument about its importance; but it is also a very difficult market from a classic category point of view. Local authorities (councils) are very dominant buyers, and many of the supply markets are fragmented. That should put the buyer in a position of power; but the sensitivities mean that buyers cannot simply use aggressive “leverage” approaches. That leads to suppliers going bust, old folks left stranded in closed care homes, or terrible stories of mis-treatment (driven in part by lousy wages, no doubt) and the 10 minute a day “carer” visits that we’ve seen featured in the media.

So this is a challenge for buyers, and in a few years, a new development has added another level of complexity to the picture. Whilst it may well be a good policy in itself, the introduction of “personal budgets” has given councils something else to think about.  The idea here is that the care recipient is given a sum of money and can then decide themselves how to spend it, rather than having the care determined and delivered to them based on the judgement of the social worker.

So a recipient might choose a different pattern of personal support, perhaps paying a friend or relative to deliver it. They might choose some social activities of their choice to relieve loneliness rather than being bussed to a community centre once a week. They could spend money on equipment suitable for their disability so they can cook for themselves again rather than getting the meals delivered form the council approved provider.

Conceptually, it sounds great, but the practicalities are complex. Councils are obviously wary of just giving cash to people – how do they account for it, and know that it has been spent appropriately? How does the recipient know where to go if they decide they do want personal support every day? How does that service provider get paid?

Different councils have looked at various approaches to these issues. We’ve seen types of payment card used, along with marketplace platforms to help direct the individual buyers. But this area remains ripe for tools to support efficient process management.

And that takes us nicely into Younifi, a new online platform from Comensura; a firm many of you will know as a manged service provider in the contingent labour space, and a sponsor of Spend Matters we should say. But we would be featuring Younifi even if we had never heard of Comensura, because it is genuinely innovative and interesting in the way it addresses this difficult spend area. So, in part 2 , we’ll take a look at how exactly it works.

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