Help Design the Council's New Community Commissioning Programme - the Successor to Mainstream Grants

Tower Hamlets Council's Mainstream Grants (MSG), a programme of voluntary sector funding of about £3m per year, will come to an end on 31st March 2019.  After this point there will still be some council grant funding*, but it is unlikely to be anything like the MSG in terms of the overall funding available and the type of projects supported.

The successor to the MSG will be a programme of commissioned services, as laid out in the 2016-19 Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy.  The new programme will be called Community Commissioning. Carney Green and NEF Consulting have been appointed to support Tower Hamlets Council to co-design the new programme with the Voluntary and Community Sector.

The Community Commissioning budget is not decided. The final amount will also depend on the balance of grants funded under the new Council Grants Policy (which THCVS has been working to develop) and Community Commissioning.

The Council intends to open services for tender in the summer of 2018.  The new programme should start in April 2019.

The co-design process will have two phases:

1. The Framework

In January 2018, the Council held some internalsessions and three public workshops (Jan 16th and Jan 18th - slides here, and a summary session on Jan 24th - slides here) to establish:

  • Overall aims and emerging outcomes of the Community Commissioning Programme
  • The approach the programme should take to establish these aims
  • Good practice to include (and what to avoid)
  • Capacity building support that organisations might need in order to respond to tenders

Around 50 VCS organisations and individuals (including THCVS) attended the sessions. Flip chart notes from the initial two workshops can be seen here and here. There is also a report from Carney Green detailing the full process so far.

Overall approach

According to the notes from the workshops, participants suggested that the programme should focus on:

  1. Preventative approaches - early intervention could apply to all areas of provision (for example, sports, criminal justice, arts) as well as provide sustainability and value for money
  2. Reducing Poverty –  including employment and skils work, tackling in-work poverty and increasing prosperity
  3. Co-production - An overall focus on co-production with the community at service design and delivery level
  4. Empowerment and Community Cohesion – services should work toward  cohesion and individual empowerment, including improved understanding and tolerance, active involvement in local communities, decreased isolation and the development of positive relationships

The feedback from the workshops was that these overarching principles should exist across all themes and strands developed for the programme, to develop a common commissioning approach that can be applied across different services, with different supplemental outcomes.


Following input at the workshops, the Council has suggested some sevice design principles for the  new Community Commissioning Programme.  These include:

  • A supportive and collaborative approach to monitoring
  • Streamlined application and monitoring, proportionate to the size of the contract
  • A focus on outcomes, with flexibility in as to how outcomes are achieved.  This should encourage innovation and creativity and value local solutions, knowledge and expertise.
  • Valuing partnership work, but not requiring it
  • A transparent tendering process that weights toward local knowledge and expertise, as well as other factors
  • Reasonable timelines to respond to tenders
  • Capacity building for the sector to be able to effectively respond to tenders
  • A programme that works in synergy with existing commissioning and strategic priorities
  • Co-designed commissioning outcomes where useful
  • Building evidence for local need and the impact of the approaches developed - commissioned organisations will be expected to evidence the impact of their approaches to address an evidenced need in the borough

Emerging outcomes

The suggested outcomes for the programme were broad ranging and require grouping into final themes and strands.  Read the intial notes on outcomes here.

2. Detailed proposals

The next phase will be to look at the detailed proposals for the Community Commissioning Programme. This needs to take place after the current proposals are agreed by Tower Hamlets Cabinet on 20th March.

This phase of the programme development will include matching emerging themes from the first workshops to existing Council priorities and packaging these into different themes and strands.

A capacity building programme, including a number of open workshops will be designed, to help organisations respond effectively to tenders. These will be offered from April onward.

More information on workshop dates will be available soon.

What does the new programme mean for VCS organisations in Tower Hamlets

The shift to commissioning services will mean that organisations used to grants will need to adapt to the new bidding process. A capacity building programme will be carried out from April 2018 to help organisations respond to tenders for Community Commissioning Programme services in the summer. It will be important to know the governance and other requirements that come hand in hand with commissioning, as well as how to navigate the Council’s tender portal.

Other changes include some of the commitments to more streamlined monitoring and an outcomes focus within the programme. However this will also require a change in the way organisations may be used to evidencing their work. Commissioning also opens up a greater deal of competition and while the focus on local knowledge and reach will help organisations within the borough showcase their work, this will have to be evidenced.

The new contracts are due to start in a little over a year's time, so it's important that local organisations, paricularly those with less experience of commissioning, start preparing now.

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?

The development of the Community Commissioning Programme is being led by Elvis Langley at Tower Hamlets Council.  If you have any questions, comments or concerns about the process or would like to pass on your ideas, please  contact him or call 020 8364 4150.

THCVS would also like to hear from you if you have comments or questions on any of the above.  Please mail Kirsty or Gemma directly or call the main office number; 020 8980 8427.



*  We are undertaking a separate piece of work about the new grants programme.  You can find out more about this here.


All documents linked to in the text are also available to download below.  We'll add more information as we receive it, and can keep you updated by email if you sign up to our 'Funding and Development' bulletin.