It is important to consider the potential impact of decommissioning early enough and thoroughly enough before a decision to decommission a service has been made. Even where full decommissioning does not take place, there will still be impacts on costs and the level and quality of service that may be provided. For example, asking a provider to cut their costs by 5% may mean they have to stop some of their activities which may have an impact on the users of the service.
As well as costs, commissioners need to consider the benefits of the options. These may primarily be cost cutting, but could also relate to removing any service duplication or wastage which will reduce costs further down the line.
Commissioners are legally obliged under the Equality Act 2010 to carry out Equality Impact Assessments (EIA) when changing the services provided to users. Our research found the quality and detail of EIAs to be very variable. Some providers felt that EIAs were often ‘tick-box’ exercises that did not have any bearing on the decisions made. Commissioners highlighted the challenge of carrying out meaningful EIAs and the skills that they needed to complete them in a robust way (for example, consulting users).
Some commissioners had developed their own tools to conduct impact assessments. For example, one Local Authority used an integrated impact assessment screening tool which covered health and wellbeing.
Considering wider impacts
An area of impact assessment that is often missed, but is nonetheless important, is the viability of the provider market. Some decommissioning options may reduce the viability of one or more providers and so reduce the supplier base from which new services may be commissioned. If the competitive tension within the market is too reduced, it may become difficult to derive value for money when tendering for new or changed services.
Finally, it is good practice to consider the impact of all of the options for service change on a range of stakeholders including other statutory partners and the wider community. For example, not everyone will use a homelessness service but the whole community benefits from the service.
There may also be unintended consequences from some options for service change. For example, decommissioning one service delivered at a particular centre or by a particular provider may lead to the centre or provider becoming unviable and threatening other services which the commissioner or others wish to continue.
Such unintended disruption can significantly undermine any potential cost savings and value for money from decommissioning, as well as causing disruption for users and reputational risk to the Local Authority.