Ethical Commissioning and Alternatives to Traditional Procurement


GCVS recently hosted two complimentary events to explore ethical commissioning and procurement.  The events provided the space to explore the policy context, the principles of ethical commissioning and a range of alternatives to traditional procurement, with practical examples from across Scotland and beyond.  The success of these events was due, in no small measure, to the contributions from colleagues from across the third sector, GCVS Children’s Services Team, Glasgow Health & Social Care Partnership (GHSCP), Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS), The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (Iriss) and our guest speakers, who shared practical examples of alternatives to competitive tendering.

Event #1 – Can Ethical Commissioning Fix Social Care?

The Policy Context

The well-rehearsed challenges of commissioning in social care were well-articulated in the Feeley Review, independent review of adult social care and the Scottish Government is now intensifying a focus on ethical commissioning and its role in shaping the new National Care Service (NCS).

This signals a positive shift towards ‘commissioning for public good’ and points towards: empowering people; valuing the social care workforce; embedding a human rights approach to social care; shared accountability between all partners and stakeholders involved (from planning through to delivery), and ensuring the involvement of people with lived experience in service design. This means that new legislation under the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill would support a welcome wide-scale transformation of commissioning and procurement – creating a system based more on collaboration rather than an emphasis on price and competition.

But we don’t need to wait for new legislation around the NCS. Alternative approaches to planning and purchasing care and support services already exist within current procurement regulations. Whilst the principles of transparency and equal treatment will always be adhered to, embedding ‘social value’ at the very centre of procurement is now an explicit focus. The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, introduced a sustainable procurement duty which means to consider in advance, how a procurement process can improve social, economic and environmental wellbeing, address inequalities, promote innovation as well as promoting the involvement of SMEs, the third sector and supported businesses.

A full recording of this event is available to watch now: 

Ethical Commissioning 

We were pleased to welcome input from Iriss – Dee Fraser, (CEO) and Louise Bowen, (Development Lead), who spoke about compassionate and collaborative commissioning and Iriss’ work to date on the topic. Their presentations explored how the principles and practice of ethical commissioning could be embedded to become ‘business as usual’ practice – at the same time, acknowledging social care system complexities, a backdrop of (failure) demand, financial constraints, and the tensions that exist across organisational and sectoral boundaries. However, in essence, ethical commissioning is aimed at achieving better outcomes for the people who need support services and this is a shared endeavour – so all stakeholders across the system need to act ethically. Based on a number of follow-on interventions from commissioners and providers, the main points below highlighted that achieving a genuine approach to ethical commissioning, will entail a commitment to:

  • Changing the mindset of commissioning from process to people
  • A fundamental commitment to collaboration and reciprocity
  • Build on what good practice already exists
  • Delivering locally – Saving money by doing the right thing – Local by default  
  • Acknowledge the need to invest time and effort in building trusted relationships across system stakeholders and in having challenging conversations
  • Being truthful about the constraints (financial, legal, capacity and demand pressures)
  • Where possible, radically reduce competition in favour of collaborative approaches
  • Reducing bureaucracy and work within ‘just enough’ structures

Collaborative Commissioning 

Neil from CCPS introduced the work they’ve been doing with third sector care providers and commissioners around ‘collaborative commissioning’ and the variety of alternative approaches to competitive tendering – Grants; Alliance Contracts; Community Budgeting; Flexible Frameworks; Public Social Partnerships and the Light Touch Regime. To learn more, CCPS has produced a series of great resources from their work on Commissioning and Procurement and Iriss offer a free online course on Ethical Commissioning if you are interested in finding out more on this topic-

Learning from Wales

We also heard from Meilys Heulfryn Smith from Gwynedd Council in Wales who shared their experience of who shared a great example of redesigning a new Home Care model through collaboration with providers, piloting new approaches and embedding social value at the centre of the service.  Meilys outlined the policy and legislative context in Wales set out in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and their approach to piloting new approaches using the Vanguard Method (People Centred Systems). The outcomes achieved from this new approach were impressive so it’s well worth watching the video below to learn more about how they achieved this.

Transforming the Design and Delivery of Health & Social Care Services

Glasgow perspective – we heard from Alison Noonan, Head of Service for Maximising Independence and Unscheduled Care about the work underway in transforming the design and delivery of health and social care services, working in partnership with the third and independent sector.

The ambition of the Maximising Independence work is to help people live more independent lives at home in their local community for as long as they want to, and can safely do so.  A key part of making this happen is supporting new and innovative ways of designing, commissioning and delivering services with people and communities at the heart of the process. We now have finance and commissioning colleagues within the programme team to ensure they are involved at the earliest stage to inform and support new and innovative approaches to funding. This is necessary in order to work differently and learn together about how to mitigate the barriers experienced in commissioning collectively with communities.

Maximising Independence is currently developing a People’s Panel to collaborate with people from across the city to guide our next stage of activity.

For more info, visit:

The Glasgow Promise Partnership 

This is an exciting new initiative involving a collaboration of third sector organisations, supported by GCVS, in partnership with Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership. We have been successful in obtaining Promise Partnership Funding through Corra Foundation to: ‘Explore alternatives to traditional procurement and establish tests of change which will create a blueprint for how children’s services across the country can be planned, procured and delivered. We want to work in partnership, not in competition and co-design services with the children, young people, and families they are designed to support’.

We have chosen to adopt the Scottish Approach to Service Design and the National Standards for Community Engagement, to support and empower young people and families to actively participate in the definition, design and delivery of services to best meet their needs. We will be creative to minimise the barriers to participation and ensure that a wide range of children, young people, parents and carers can take part. As ideas emerge, we will use co-production principles, with a group comprising young people, families, third sector and public sector working together to design services to meet their needs.


Event #2– Alternatives to Traditional Commissioning

The Policy Context

The Scottish Government has launched the Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (WFWF), a £500 million investment over 4 years to: support the whole system transformational change required to reduce the need for crisis intervention, shift investment towards prevention and early intervention, with the ambition that by 2030 at least 5% of all community-based health and social care spend will be on preventive whole family support measures. The Scottish Government also recognise the need for a transformation in commissioning & procurement to ensure that they are rights-based, outcomes-focused, and collaborative rather than competitive.

Guest speakers included, Sarah Bruce, from the Family Unit at Scottish Government who presented on The Whole Family Wellbeing Fund and Neil McKechnie from CCPS. Attendees also heard from The Glasgow Promise Project Officer, Zsara McEwan, who presented findings from the consultation with service users to inform the Glasgow Promise Partnership project at GCVS.

Missed the live event? Follow the link below to watch recordings from Sarah Bruce (Scot Govt) and Neil McKechnie (CCPS).  

Scottish Government Presentation – click here

CCPS Presentation click here

Glasgow Promise Project Presentation  – click here


Participants also had the opportunity to attend a workshop of their choice, delivered by organisations with first-hand experience of alternative commissioning initiatives.

  1. Glasgow North and North West Family Wellbeing Partnership PSP – Isobel Lawson, Stepping Stones for Families.

Stepping Stones for Families, Action For Children  and Glasgow Education service developed a PSP to work strategically across the targeted locality to deliver an early engagement and assertive outreach programme that supported existing provision & contributed to the aims of “One Glasgow The session will explore the learning outcomes from the Stirling University Evaluation Report of the PSP.

  1. Elevate PSP – an employability partnership – Pauline Gordon, GCVS and Zara Dyer, GCA

Third sector partners and NHS GG&C came together to explore improving outcomes for people in recovery to enter employment through a range of person-centred services. They adopted a PSP model and this session will outline how the PSP has developed and continues to use co-production approaches to enhance services and deliver positive employability outcomes.

  1. Collaborative working in Highland Council on asylum seekers and refugees –Jim Wallace, Aberlour

This session discussed  how positive collaborative working between The Highland Council (THC), Aberlour, Barnardo’s, Right There and the University of Highland and Islands created a service for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people.

  1. Dundee Alliance – a strategic partnership approach –Karen Head, Barnardo’s and Anita Roweth, Action for Children.

The Dundee Alliance, a partnership between Action for Children and Barnardo’s originated following The Child and Family Support Review 2020. The review highlighted increasing supply and demand issues for family support, and prioritised a community wide approach.

You can view a summary of the workshops here 

Available presentations below:

Thanks to all our speakers and contributors for a healthy debate on the event themes and the workshop leads for shining a light on diverse examples of good practice on alternative approaches to traditional commissioning.

Summing Up

Pauline Gordon, Commissioning & Procurement Policy Manager, GCVS

It’s clear that there’s already a lot of good practice happening across the country using different models and approaches – all with a genuine focus on collaboration.  Commissioning and procurement practice has improved over the years and with legislation under the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, public bodies have the opportunity to better use the flexibilities available to them.  At GCVS, we will continue to support continuous improvements in ethical commissioning and foster better links between commissioners, providers, users of services and procurement professionals to make ethical commissioning a reality.

Procurement legislative levers and policy commitments at the national level appear progressive, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of changing cultures, behaviours and building trusted relationships within and across sectors and stakeholders – that will be an investment of time and effort well spent.

There’s no one model that fits all services areas – however, what any commissioning is aiming to achieve should determine the approach taken to deliver better outcomes for users of services, if they are to be genuinely person-centred.  And although competition is a natural feature of procurement, flexibilities already exist to take different approaches to traditional competitive procurement routes and we will aim to disseminate more widely, good practice examples.

If we accept that the commissioning landscape has more flexibilities – then procurement, within the scope of the law, should no longer be perceived as the barrier or blocker to innovation and reform – but rather an enabler of it. The Glasgow Promise Partnership Project will continue to be a key focus for GCVS going forward, and we will, with our third sector and HSCP partners, and through genuine coproduction with children, young people and families, continue to share good practice on alternative approaches to public service commissioning through the learning and outcomes of this work.





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