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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

Walking a mile in your commissioner’s shoes – Understanding the other side of the equation

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

2016 and 2017 sees many public service spin-outs face the prospect of re-tendering for their core contracts. To mark this milestone, we are publishing a series of articles on bid writing and business development. Read the third in the series below.

It’s never a bad thing to remind ourselves of the saying that ‘you can’t really understand a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes’.

It is particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with public sector commissioners, and trying to fathom what drives their decision-making.

For battle-weary souls that have run the tendering gauntlet many times, it can sometimes feel like commissioners act on a whim and there is no rhyme or reason to their behaviour.

Part of the cause of this is that commissioners tend to keep a distance, something encouraged by procurement rules and their emphasis on being fair-to-all. But this sets up a division between commissioner and provider, an ‘us and them’ that is hard to overcome.

Naturally providers see things from their side of the fence. They emphasise the bits of their service they think are good and are outraged when commissioners don’t agree. Understandably there can be resentment at the thought of commissioners sitting pretty atop their pile of money.

Spare a thought for commissioners though. With local authorities bearing the brunt of the slash in public spending, it’s a job that is more difficult than ever.

It’s also a job where there is huge room for error. Commissioners are under constant pressure to pick the right horse because, ultimately, they are accountable for the public services they buy. Any mistakes by the provider are shared by the commissioner.

So if this tends to lead to risk-aversion, it is understandable. Next time you get sent that ITT, it is worth reminding yourself that above all else commissioners want to know what they are buying will be delivered. This concern trumps everything else, even price. As well as understanding what they want, make sure you emphasise your past achievements, show that you have clear processes of risk management, and reassure the commissioner that, come what may, you can be counted on.

For more articles in this series click here.


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