Strategic commissioning

The Context

Strategic commissioning offers the opportunity to generate better outcomes for local people and communities. By developing the relationships and understanding between sport and leisure services and commissioners of health, social care and children’s services, among others, it is considered that corporate and local strategic outcomes can be better achieved.

In the three local authorities of Hartlepool, Newcastle and Sunderland, the sport and leisure services wished to develop their strategic commissioning knowledge and capacity. The services saw commissioning as a key means by which they could better place themselves within corporate processes, spread awareness about the service and its offer and increase their impact upon important local strategic outcomes.

A joint project, supported by Sport England and the local authorities, was developed to map the local commissioning environment in relation to key service areas and support the creation of a shared understanding with commissioners of the potential contribution that sport and leisure services can make.

The project was co-designed with the project steering group which included representatives from Sport England and the three participating local authorities. The process was led and facilitated by a consultant from Helmepark Ltd and aimed to achieve a balance between realising the benefits of a joint approach to the work and addressing the specific needs of the individual councils at the same time. A consultant-led approach was adopted for a number of reasons – to take advantage of their knowledge, skills and experience; their position as an independent facilitator; and the additional capacity they bring to deliver the project and drive its progress.


The Approach

The project followed a broad delivery framework based around the Local Government Association’s Engaging in Commissioning resource pack.

Stage 1: Scoping exercise – to shape the project to match local needs, including a series of scoping meetings between the consultant and senior representatives from the three local authorities, culminating in individual local authority project plans.

Stage 2: Mapping the commissioning landscape – desk research, a review of literature and a programme of one-to-one interviews with local key stakeholders who could support the mapping of the commissioning landscape, including senior personnel from Public Health, Adult Social Care, Children’s and Commissioning Services, Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) personnel and elected members. This resulted in the development of an understanding of the local strategic policy context and commissioning environment, as well as what is required to shape up as a commissioning partner.

Stage 3: Sport and leisure service awareness and orientation session – enabling sport and leisure service personnel to develop an understanding of the commissioning landscape, informed by the mapping information gleaned from Stage 2.

Stage 4: Building a shared understanding – among personnel from a range of services of the needs of adults and young people in the area, how commissioning is working to meet those needs and deliver better outcomes, and how sport and leisure services can be more actively engaged as commissioners and/or providers of services.

The project took place between 19 December 2012 and 3 October 2013, with a cost of £11,500 excluding VAT.

Outcomes and Impact

For all three local authorities there is now an improved understanding at the strategic level of the service’s offer and how it links and contributes to wider corporate activity and outcomes. The service is able to better advocate its contribution to the achievement of important local strategic objectives – for example:

  • In Hartlepool, while there has been a historic relationship between Youth Services and Adult Social Care and the sports development team, the project has resulted in the widening of this relationship to include the Outdoor Activity team and leisure facility staff. The service has been asked to work in new partnerships to increase their reach to new colleagues and organisations. As a consequence, the service is working with some target groups which are new to it; for example through the Safer Partnership Commissioner working with drug and substance misuse organisations
  • In Newcastle the key stakeholders supported the concept of a Stage and Play model of operation which aligns well with the strengthened commissioning approach at the council, and in which the importance of the service being a catalyst and connector at the local level is further emphasised. This model recognises:
    • The primary role of the council is to provide the facilities in which activity takes place, be it a leisure centre or outdoor areas
    • A range of organisations, including the council, will have a role staging activities, as there are a number of agencies responsible for delivering leisure opportunities to residents and visitors.

In addition relationships have been strengthened. For example:

  • In Sunderland the project enabled closer working with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). The service is now better positioned in the commissioning processes for services regarding appropriate care pathways and the physical health of the Sunderland population as it relates to the CCG priorities; for example, enhancing the quality of life for people with long-term conditions. The service has also begun discussions with the Youth Offending Service about opportunities to be involved in the new liaison and diversion pilot programme, providing diversionary sport and leisure activities to those at risk of entering the criminal justice system. The service is to work with colleagues who commission youth providers to work with children and young people within the city. The work will look to embed outcomes associated with participation in physical activity and sport opportunities as part of the commissioned offer
  • In Hartlepool, the service has strengthened and formalised working relationships with Children’s Services, resulting in the service working with the Looked After Children section on a range of activities including targeted holiday provision and inter-generational sessions. Information from the project will be used to reinvigorate the Community Activity Network, the Sport and Physical Activity Strategy and also its action plan. Child and Adult Services and Public Health will be involved in this work to ensure the application of the learning and relationships the project has generated. The project has also prompted the service to re-consider its performance management systems and processes so that it can provide a compelling narrative of the outcome, impact and social value of sport and physical activity. This will be particularly important in future CCG commissioning processes, for example.

And in some instances there has been a financial benefit, for example:

  • In Hartlepool, the service has a history of being commissioned and the project needs to be seen as part of an ongoing process of increasing partnership dialogue and joint service development. For example, the GP referral programme for 2013/14 (£30,000) has been directly informed by the project, operating with greater focus on key priority groups and with a new approach to risk stratification applied to the engagement with them. Similarly the delivery of the Families In It Together programme (£75,000) has changed from having a group work focus to greater 1:1 delivery in response to a deeper understanding of client needs gathered as part of the project’s engagement phase in Stage 2 and subsequent consultation. Indeed, the service has received investments of over £250,000 in 2013/14 from a range of organisations involved in this project, and the strengthening of relationships and deepening of understanding it fostered signals to the service that they are now more strongly positioned to take advantage of future commissioning opportunities.

The Learning

Greater understanding of relationships and levels of engagement:

  • In Hartlepool and Sunderland, it was considered that a more detailed initial stakeholder analysis that ensured a fully inclusive process would have added greater richness of detail to the project. All the stakeholders involved very much welcomed the dialogue the project generated. This recognises that partnership dialogue and joint service development are key elements of the services’ work programme with continuous awareness-raising around the service and its offer being an ongoing priority
  • Sunderland suggests thinking more broadly about which key stakeholders and partners have a role to play in this agenda.
  • For Hartlepool, a key focus of the project was strategic engagement – but it was also essential to give sufficient attention to detailed operational matters. This ensures clarity around the service’s offer and regular communication with partners demonstrates how the service can contribute to the achievement of their priority outcomes.

Sharing information and using tools:

  • Newcastle identified the importance of close working and information sharing with both strategic and operational stakeholders to ensure that there is a detailed understanding of how sport and leisure can contribute to the achievement of health and wellbeing for residents
  • For Newcastle, ensuring robust monitoring and evaluation systems are in place is essential. This will enable programmes and performance to be monitored to indicate hot spots, trends and any underlying issues unforeseen at the planning stage. Accurate data provides the solid evidence base with which to attract future commissioning opportunities
  • It was acknowledged that information from Sport England tools has a role to play in supporting the local commissioning of sport and physical activity.

Getting the timing right:

  • For both Hartlepool and Sunderland, the pace of change within the local context for the project was considerable. Recognising the resource constraints of the project, a shorter timeline for its implementation may have been beneficial; although it is recognised that it was responsive to circumstances and opportunities as they arose.

Trying a new approach:

  • In Newcastle, preventing the potential increase of obesity, especially in wards where there is a high risk of obesity, is a key focus. The consideration of new approaches to working with individuals, for example those who have health and wellbeing issues but who are more comfortable in a leisure setting, could lead to better outcomes for those individuals.

Organisation Contacts

Simon Penhall – Helmepark Ltd –

Pat Usher – Hartlepool Borough Council – or 01429 523416

David Fay – Newcastle City Council - or 0191 277 4152

Victoria French – Sunderland City Council – or 0191 561 4688