How do we create vibrant care and support markets? Through creativity and a strong focus on outcomes

By Ewan King, Director of Business Development and Delivery, SCIE

Featured article – 05 June 2015

Image of Ewan King

The Care Act 2014 places new duties on local authorities to shape and commission a vibrant, diverse, sustainable and high quality market of local care and support providers. And they need to do this with, and not to, local providers, along with people who use care and support services, carers and the wider community. When local authorities have good local markets, they are in a far better place to meet the other duties and principles that are enshrined in the Care Act. But what does this mean in practice?

Manchester model

Let me introduce you to market position statements. What are these? What is an MPS? Manchester city council sees an MPS as an increasingly important part of their relationship with the care and support sector, to be read as a tool to spark debate, to encourage new ideas and to welcome any proposal of doing things differently than in the past.

However, it’s tempting to see this as largely about producing a clear, well written, MPS and then seeing the job as done. But this isn’t enough; building a vibrant market is an ongoing and sustained activity, requiring a clear vision, strategy and approach.

One approach to all of this, tried in the Manchester region, is called Working together for change (WTfC). This best-practice tool co-produces change with people and their families. It’s a simple six-stage process, designed to be low-cost and low-tech; it helps commissioners and providers to use scarce resources and improve productivity, all so that services provide the things people want and need in the way that makes most sense to them. Manchester, Stockport and Trafford councils used WTfC process to ensure that the MPS gave the right messages about what services should be providing in the future.

Lessons for the market

What have we learned from how local authorities have gone about shaping markets so far? Firstly, there is a need for a compelling and shared vision of what a good market looks like and how it works.

Secondly, ensure that your strategy is co-produced with service users, carers, providers and the wider communities. This means involving them at the start of the process, and regularly thereafter. SCIE have been vocal proponents of co-production as a way to develop user centred and high quality services for some time, arguing that good co-production is vital to shaping market and commissioning strategies.

Thirdly, view the market in the broadest sense, challenging yourself to see beyond more traditional models of care. Market shaping is about using commissioning as a device to attract just these kinds of providers.

Fourthly, ensure that people make the most of the market you build, and this comes through providing good information and advice – enabling people to navigate through the complexity of matching their needs to local supply.

Market shaping is not new – it’s a core function of local government, whether you are operating in adult social care, economic development or early years’ provision, for instance. The Care Act gives us a strong nudge, not to rest on our laurels, but to be even more creative and ambitious. With a focus on outcomes, a creative approach to market engagement, and with co-production at its heart, market development can deliver high quality services.  Without losing the emphasis on care and support that drives us every day.


The Manchester example is featured on page ten of this pdf document, How to work together across health, care and beyond.