Commissioning the VCS

Over recent years the Government has promoted the potential of third sector organisations to supply goods and services to the public sector and encouraged stronger commissioning relationships. However there is still some confusion surrounding the definitions and processes of commissioning and procurement. The terms 'commissioning' and 'procurement' are often used interchangeably, when in fact they refer to different activities.

"Commissioning - the cycle of assessing the needs of people in an area, designing and then securing an appropriate service". (Source: Partnership in Public Services: An action plan for third sector involvement)

Locally, regionally and nationall public bodies have been moving towards a commissioning approach and working to improve the quality of commissioning processes. NAVCA describes commissioning as:

"the whole process of deciding what public services are needed, what priorities they are accorded, and choosing what, why, how and where to allocate resources to provide services. ...... a cycle of how best to meet strategic objectives and service level objectives by identifying need, scoping the market of providers, drawing in expertise, designing a service, deciding how to resource the service, choosing a supplier and monitoring the ultimate service's delivery".

A good commissioning process will involve considering a range of options and service providers including the voluntary and community sector. It may also involve consideration of issues such as joint service delivery, collaboration and mergers.

Procurement involves purchasing goods, services and works. Procurement is one part of the commissioning process and refers to a specific method of purchasing services which results in a contract. Although procurement can range from contracting for an entire service to purchasing small assets, in relationships between the Council and the voluntary and community sector we tend to use the term procurement to describe the management of larger contracts.

The procurement process does not end at the commissioning or contract award stage, but spans the entire life cycle of the product or service from inception and design through to contract management and disposal of any redundant assets.

Visit the Shropshire Council's Procurement web pages for more local information:


Information for the Voluntary and Community Sector

Funding and commissionng relationships are often quoted as one of the greatest concerns for voluntary and community sector organisations. The Shropshire Compact (see page on this site) has been developed to support commisisoning and funding relationships between the Council and voluntary and community sector locally. The work the VCS Assembly does also aims to develop strong communication with commissioners through partnership groups and consultation processes.

For more general information about commissioninh there is a wealth of information available on NAVCA's commissioning and procurement minisite:

NAVCA's commisisoning and procurement resources web page is also a helpful link:

Information for Commissioners

Get in touch with the Voluntary and Community Sector Assembly using the contact details on this website if you would like to discuss ways of working with the VCS in order to develop strong, open commissioning arrangements.

At a national level the National Programme of Third Sector Commissioning is a useful resource and promotes 8 principles of good commissioning:

  • Understanding the needs of users and other communities by ensuring that, alongside other consultees, you engage with the third sector organisations, as advocates, to access their specialist knowledge;
  • Consulting potential provider organisations, including those from the third sector and local experts, well in advance of commissioning new services, working with them to set priority outcomes for that service;
  • Putting outcomes for users at the heart of the strategic planning process;
  • Mapping the fullest practical range of providers with a view to understanding the contribution they could make to delivering those outcomes;
  • Considering investing in the capacity of the provider base, particularly those working with hard-to-reach groups;
  • Ensuring contracting processes are transparent and fair,facilitating the involvement of the broadest range of suppliers, including considering sub-contracting and consortia building, where appropriate;
  • Ensuring long-term contracts and risk sharing, wherever appropriate, as ways of achieving efficiency and effectiveness; and
  • Seeking feedback from service users, communities and providers in order to review the effectiveness of the commissioning process in meeting local needs.

To find out more about the National Programme for Third Sector Commissioning take a look at the publications below or visit:

Useful Publications

pdfGreen Paper Commissioning VCS (248.3KB)

pdfThird Sector Commissioning - A Better Return (557.55KB)

pdfThird Sector Commissioning - A Better Return Appendix (1052.8KB)

pdfNAVCA Commissioning Toolkit (77.5KB)


March 2012 Commissioning Workshops

The VCS Assembly in partnership with Shropshire Council recently ran a commissioning workshop for voluntary organisations and community groups to see the potential changes to the commissioning landscape and how the authority will be commissioning services in the future.

Please find below a copy of the presentation given by Shropshire Council

pdfVCS Commissioning Workshops March 2012 (169.78KB)