This page is part of our decommissioning toolkit.

How to decommission public services delivered by third sector organisations and maintain value for money


The Decommissioning guide seeks to provide practical advice on how to plan for and manage the decommissioning of public services delivered by third sector organisations (TSOs) and maintain value for money while doing so. It is designed for commissioners at a local level e.g. in local government and local health services but its messages are relevant to all commissioners and will be of interest to TSOs and other stakeholders.

Decommissioning is a natural part of the commissioning process.  Services become obsolete as users and their needs change and as the techniques, technology and approaches to meeting those needs change also. Ending obsolete services, and re-commissioning others where appropriate, is part of the continuous cycle of commissioning.

The public sector is under increasing pressure to reduce costs and the focus on decommissioning is that much greater. But the scale of cost reduction required means looking beyond immediate short-term efficiencies and thinking more radically of ways to reduce cost in the long term. Uniform top-slicing of budgets can leave organisations exposed and unprepared for the future and can lead to higher overall costs or the displacement of costs elsewhere.

In the context of the Government’s commitment to improving and delivering better, more responsive public services with the help of the third sector, and the Compact that underpins the relationship between Government and the sector, decommissioning of services provided by TSOs needs to be addressed carefully and sensibly.

The guide is based on research conducted for the National Audit Office (NAO) by the Office for Public Management (OPM) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), between December 2010 and February 2011, which looked at existing guidance and the experience of stakeholders in commissioning and provider roles for local authorities and primary care trusts.


The guidance is in two main parts:

  • Before you start – takes you through what we mean by decommissioning, the principles underlying this guidance and some pre-conditions for successful decommissioning;
  • A staged approach to decommissioning – looks at the issues that arise and good practice that should be applied at different stages of decommissioning.  These stages are aligned with those in the NAO model of commissioning (developed in ‘Successful Commissioning’).

It shares a glossary and table of useful links with the ‘Successful Commissioning’ guide.

In March 2010, NAO launched an online guide aimed at local public sector commissioners: ‘Successful Commissioning: How to secure value for money through better financial relationships with third sector organisations’. Although the “Decommissioning TSOs” guide is produced to ‘stand-alone’ it should be read in conjunction with the earlier guidance whenever possible.