Optimising Outcomes for Communities

Optimising Outcomes from Commissioning and Procurement: Lessons from the crisis

Academics from Oxford, Northumbria, Cardiff and Stirling Universities have formed a collaboration, facilitated by the Centre for Partnering, to deliver the UK’s largest research programme into the impact of Covid-19 on local government procurement and partnering. The ‘Optimising Outcomes’ project is funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s Covid-19 research initiative. The Research Director is Dr Richard Simmons from the University of Stirling.

Why is this research needed?

According to the Institute for Government, procurement accounts for around £100bn (47%) of local government revenue and capital spending in the UK. Leveraging these resources to the greatest social and economic effect continues to be crucial in promoting an agile Covid-19 crisis response, maintaining community resilience and helping local businesses stay afloat. As local government pivots and flexes in response to Covid-19, and the need to leverage resources accelerates, this major new project asks: How can local government maximise the impact of, and leverage additional value from procurement and partnering?

The study looks at how procurement can deliver the biggest benefit for residents, whether for public health, social care, or as a key economic lever to restart the local economy. Capturing these lessons takes on even greater significance now that the supply-chain implications of the Brexit deal are becoming clearer and new policy directions for procurement are being explored in a Cabinet Office Green Paper.

Principal Investigator, Dr Simmons, said:

“This is an exciting opportunity to hear some of the hidden stories from the frontline of the Covid-19 response. Local authorities are at the heart of their communities’ safety, wellbeing and resilience, and we want to help them get as much as they can from the resources they have available. This is a real chance to make a difference – we have a great team and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

What are the aims and objectives?

Local authorities face a number of contradictory forces and competing agendas. Flexibility and adaptation are now vital for protecting communities and managing the Covid-19 response. This includes thinking through recovery and mitigation strategies and building a preparedness platform for ‘what comes next’.

“Deepening our understanding of how networks of actors respond individually and collectively to a crisis is integral to improving how we prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of Covid-19 and beyond.”
(Clare FitzGerald, Research Fellow, University of Oxford)

With extensive stakeholder involvement and support, the project will thus examine what is working well, less well, why, with what effects and implications. Specifically, it asks:

  • How, and how effectively, are local authorities deploying their commissioning and procurement functions to address the challenges posed by Covid-19? What are the successes to be celebrated? Where are the tensions that need to be managed? Where is the system at risk of breaking down?

  • What are the opportunities for improved procurement performance? How do local authorities optimise every aspect of procurement spend?

  • Can local authorities adopt more innovative, strategic, entrepreneurial and relational approaches to strengthen local resilience and avoid a weak and incapacitated system?

  • What role can greater data-analytic capacity play in supporting a more agile and effective response?

Using surveys, interviews, workshops, case studies and data analytics the study will mark out critical-success-factors and points-of-failure across the UK local government system.

What will be the outcomes?

The team will combine crisis perspectives from all four UK countries to assess crisis impacts and provide deeper, sustainable learning. Particular attention will be given to ‘strategic’, ‘entrepreneurial’, and ‘relational’ impacts. This will capture how LAs’ initial emergency strategies are linking with strategies for crisis recovery and mitigation; how actors are seeking/delivering new opportunities to ‘get things done’ in the crisis; and how different actors are negotiating/navigating shared uncertainties together. The role of data and data analytics will also be examined and a new tool developed to consider procurement impact.

We welcome enquiries about this research. For further information please contact the research team via Dr Richard Simmons: r.a.simmons@stir.ac.uk


This study is built on extensive stakeholder engagement and support from important project partners such as Solace, Cipfa, County Council Network, London Councils and Improvement Service, local government suppliers YPO and Orbis and other private and third sector representatives.

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UK Research and Innovation