Decision Maker: Cabinet Member for Integrated Children's Services
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: Yes
a) Direct Award of a two-month contract on existing terms and conditions of existing Framework by two months from 1 February 2022 to 31 March 2022.
b) Competitively tender for a new Framework Agreement for Independent Fostering Providers, jointly with Medway Council, from April 2022.
Decision required because total value of contracts will exceed £1m and affects more than two Electoral Divisions.
Reason for the decision
The proposed decision is regarding the commissioning of external fostering placements through a Framework Agreement with Independent Fostering Providers jointly with Medway Council, from April 2022. This will be done through completion of a competitive tender process, and this will support KCC in meeting its Sufficiency Duty.
KCC has a significant in-house Fostering Service, and the vast majority of new fostering placement starts are provided by our own provision. However, there is still a need to search externally for approximately 20% of our fostering placement needs in order to meet our sufficiency requirements.
Externally commissioned fostering placements are called-off from the current Kent and Medway Independent Fostering Provider (IFP) Framework Agreement which is a joint arrangement between KCC and Medway Council. It went live on 1 February 2018 and is due to end on the 31 January 2022.
It is proposed that a short contract will be awarded (effectively an extension) to the existing Framework Agreement taking the expiry date up to 31 March 2022. This will enable the new Framework Agreement once it has been tendered and awarded to be aligned to financial years which will greatly assist in the reporting of performance and financial data, and internal budget build processes.
Through the commissioning and tendering of this contract, we will support the following strategic outcomes of KCC:
• Kent children have the best start in life and families get the right help and support when they need it.
• Kent children get the education, skills and experiences they need for a successful future.
In addition, this service will support achievement of the following priorities in KCC’s Children in Care and Care Leavers Strategy 2018-2022:
• Work more closely and innovatively with providers of accommodation.
• Review our approach to current spot purchased services and, where appropriate, develop new contracting models.
• Improve the matching process to create greater placement stability.
• Review mental health support for children in placements with Health colleagues.
• Deliver a new value model for placements which are highest cost.
• Explore the potential for collaboration with other authorities.
1. Do Nothing
Fostering placements would continue to be sourced via spot purchase arrangements. no additional staff resources would be required. There is likely to be a decline in availability of placements due to IFPs working closely with contracted local authorities, thereby limiting choice and availability for our children in care. In addition, this option does not comply with the Public Contract Regulations 2015.
2. Competitively tender for a new Framework Agreement
The proposed decision to competitively tender for a new Framework Agreement will cause the least disruption to KCC and to the market. It allows for clear pricing mechanisms linked to placement types and categories of need. Strong contract management arrangements ensure the service is delivered in accordance with agreed performance and quality levels. This type of arrangement makes it easier to maintain and develop strong supplier relationships. The local market has expressed a view that they favour this type of arrangement and there is a willingness to continue working and collaborating with KCC.
This is the preferred and recommended option which was presented to CYPE DMT and they agreed this recommendation.
3. Establish an alternative approach to a Framework, for instance a Qualified Provider List (QPL) or Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS)
Working with a QPL to source fostering placements will require additional work on negotiating individual placement costs based on child needs to be carried out by the Total Placement Service (TPS). For referrals not planned with sufficient time and of a more reactive nature there is the potential to be pushed into an “emergency” price.
Using a DPS would allow new providers to join the Framework, however it would also allow existing providers to leave and re-join with a different indicative pricing mechanism which would reduce any cost leverage with this market.
4. Agree a block contract arrangement with a select group of Providers
This type of arrangement lacks flexibility and does not take into account increases in demand and service pressures. Individual providers can feel they are being forced to take placements which may be unsuitable and there is a risk that matching a child’s needs to the skills and expertise of individual foster carers becomes less important. Close monitoring would be required to ensure maximum use made of the block arrangement. Engagement with the market on different contracting models has shown that there is little appetite for block contract arrangements.
5. Join a Regional Arrangement
The Department for Education and relevant national bodies are generally supportive of regional arrangements as they bring consistency of approach to the market. However, it would be considerably harder to maintain and manage provider relationships in their current guise. It is difficult to evidence that combined buying power as part of a larger regional arrangement would bring savings.
Responsibilities in terms of contract management differ between models; this would either be carried out by the agency running the arrangement or each local authority would take responsibility on behalf of the region for provider inspections in their respective geographic boundary. For an Authority the size of Kent with a sizeable provider market, this could be a big commitment which would require dedicated resources.
As Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, I agree to:
i) Directly award a two-month contract on existing terms and conditions to existing Framework Providers from 1 February 2022 to 31 March 2022.
ii) Competitively tender a new Framework Agreement for Independent Fostering Providers, joint with Medway Council, effective from 1 April 2022.
iii) Delegate decisions and necessary actions regarding the award of the contract to the Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, or other Officer as instructed by the Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education
Publication date: 18/10/2021
Date of decision: 18/10/2021
Effective from: 26/10/2021