Cyrenians are an avowed non-political organisation. We do not support one political party or ideology. Or to put it another way, we are willing to be critical of decisions taken by politicians whatever their poltical affiliation if we believe those whom we journey with will suffer as a consequence. In doing so, we are not expressing support for other politicians even if they agree with our critique, and what we say should not be taken as such.
We were promised a programme which would be, and I quote from the minister responsible and from presentations made in the run up to the tender, “a distinctly Scottish employability service” with a “well established local footprint with strong local and regional connections”, “nationally consistent…..delivered locally using public, third and private sectors…encouraging a more diverse provider market” and that would “facilitate involvement of SME’s, third sector bodies and supported businesses”
With a few small honourable exceptions, the outcome of this tender has been heralded by the sound of broken promises. Public money is once again to be spent on the failed old model of a “pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” factory production work programme with a few private companies, not all of whom are Scottish, holding virtually all the power. These companies will, yet again, cherry-pick to maximise profits with small operators, with the third sector excluded from direct involvement, instead left to pick the crumbs falling from the shareholders table. And those most in need will be left out in the cold.
Cyrenians are part of one successful bid, in Forth Valley in partnership with Falkirk Council; the only public sector bid to be successful. For this I am grateful. We were involved in another bid for the East of Scotland which was a model of good practice in collaboration. Led by Capital City partnership, it involved local organisations who know the communities they serve and have excellent track records in journeying with the most excluded. The collaboration was based on full, open book transparency where we all knew what each other was doing, what our costs were and what we’d be expected to deliver for the outcomes to be achieved.
Contrast this approach with the phone call we received on the day the tenders bids were to be in from one of the huge private providers asking us to join their bid. No sharing of costs or conversation about ethos, methodology or ambition for those we serve. Simply an un-costed, undefined, uninformed promise of possible sub-contracts. We politely declined.
Although my comments yesterday were directed at the political decision makers, the real problem here is the procurement process. It remains the biggest barrier to a proper and honest relationship between the third and public sectors. Until there is a fundamental redesign of the procurement process to one which genuinely values real, local relationships and collaborations built on parity of esteem with a track record of building trusted relationships as the fundamental basis for quality provision for those most in need, whatever the service being commissioned will be lost to the cheapest bid and those most in need will suffer as a consequence.
Ewan Aitken, 5th October 2017