Government lessons from social care disaster

Norman Lamb MP is a Liberal Democrat and the current Minister for Care and Support. He is also an ex-employment lawyer. On 13th June as I was driving back to London from Wayland prison (ironically close to if not in his constituency) I heard him interviewed on Radio 5 about the appalling state of social care in the UK. What I heard was the unusual sound of a Government minister talking complete sense.

He said that the system was in such a state because it had been tendered based solely on price. The contracts had gone to the companies which submitted the lowest price which he considered meant that there had been a race to the bottom with the absolutely inevitable consequence that quality had suffered and what was now provided by way of social care was inadequate.

So just to run that one by you again: contracts tendered on price, lowest wins, race to the bottom, quality suffers, inadequate service. Makes perfect sense.

I wonder if he might be persuaded to have a word with his Conservative colleague Chris Grayling. Unlike Mr Lamb, Chris Grayling is not a lawyer but he is in charge of the Ministry of Justice and holds the post of Lord Chancellor, the first non-lawyer to do so since 1672.

What Mr Grayling is proposing to do in relation to the tendering of contracts to undertake criminal defence work under legal aid is: tender on price. There will be a minimum quality assurance pre-tender (can you tick the right boxes type of stuff) but the tender will be solely on price with the lowest bid winning. Might this create a race to the bottom? Might this lead to lower quality of work? Might it ultimately lead to an inadequate service? Not according to Mr Grayling.

There are lessons to be learnt across Government if only a bit of joined up thinking could be employed. The warning signs are there for Mr Grayling. He only needs to speak to his colleague across the ministerial table.

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