How does Newcastle City Council commission and procure?

Neil Shashoua, our Business Development Manager, goes to a meeting so you don’t have to.

With so many Consortium members having public service contracts as a significant proportion of their income stream and service delivery, I was pleased to take part in Newcastle City Council’s event for the VCS on 21/11/16 to find out about their new Commissioning and Procurement Plan and to give our views on how they should assess social value in tenders.

The Plan talks about how commissioning and procurement works within the Council, and the four development areas for the lifetime of the Plan (2016/17 – 2019/20).

  1. social values
  2. supporting local markets
  3. contract management
  4. technology


As well as showcasing the Plan, the 11 of us who braved the cold to get together with Rachel Baillie (Assistant Director for Inclusion, Commissioning and Procurement) and Laura Choake (Commissioning Programme Manager), found out that the value of the Council’s contracts with the VCS (not independent schools and housing associations) are worth £54m, which is 18% of the Council’s total contract spend. Of that 18%, 43% is North East based and 25% is with organisations based in the city. There’ll be a report to the Council’s Voluntary Sector Liaison Group next month with more details on this.

Where’s the shopping list?

The Plan has links to information to help you find out when existing contracts end, one of the two reasons for the Council to recommission, the other being new funding of course. Look at the contract register and commissioning intentions at

All tenders go via the NEPO portal, which has been likened to Dr Who’s Tardis; but unlike that fictional police box it can send you daily alerts for tenders and consultation events.

Grants and contracts – never the twain shall meet?

Part of the Council’s thinking behind setting up the Newcastle Fund, to provide grants to the VCS, was to develop series that, if they were needed and developed, could be commissioned. Public sector cuts has made this less likely than before although there are some examples of where grant funded services have migrated to become commissioned ones; the recent bringing together of funding for domestic violence services was cited as one such example.

One point made was that some councils procure some of their commissioned services via a grant, rather than a contract. Newcastle has no plans to do this and want to keep the two separate.

Valuing the social

The final part of the event was to introduce us to part of the framework that the Council has been developing (supported by a working group) on social value. Cabinet Office funding has enabled Garry Stone of B2B North to support the Council to develop the framework and we were asked for our views on questions to assess whether a tender meets the four principles of

  1. Think, buy, support Newcastle
  2. Community Focused
  3. Green and Sustainable
  4. Ethical Leadership

Want to comment on these questions? Click here

The Plan and suite of accompanying documents may not be of much comfort if you’ve just lost a tender after spending weeks locked in a room writing it with your colleagues, are frustrated that you have only 30 days to bid, or are trying to understand why your tender scored so low on the ‘price’ criteria even though your bid came in at the budget figure. However, I found it to be well structured, clear in its wording, and good in its coverage of some of the key issues we’ve been discussing in the VCS for years; proportionate contract management, transparency of decision making around tenders, and including the social value in procurement decisions and policy.