The 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 now be extended and end on 30th September 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.


UPDATE 4th October 2018

Update from Tower Hamlets Council - VCS Community Commissioning Programme

Programme Priorities and Outcomes Framework

Following the work carried out earlier in the year, the draft themes and priorities framework for the community commissioning programme has been through the Council’s internal consultation processes as it progresses towards being considered by the Mayor and Cabinet at the end of October.  It reflects the priorities and outcomes which emerged from the co-production work earlier in the year with the only significant change being in the Information and Advice theme where there has been further work with the advice organisations to refine the priorities and outcomes for that theme.

The framework - click here to download -  now shows the five themes with their respective priorities and the high level outcomes which they are seeking to achieve.  The priorities and outcomes also indicate the lead directorate in the Council which will be responsible for taking them forward.  Some are joint leads where there is a significant overlap.

The Council will now be looking at the themes set out in the programme in more detail with workshops for each theme starting the process of developing service specifications.  These workshops will bring together service providers from the sector, commissioners and service leads to shape the detail.  The workshops will begin later this month and the timetable will be published shortly. 


The Council has made a commitment to minimising the barriers to smaller organisations participating in the Community Commissioning Programme.  They will be working with THCVS and others to deliver a programme of training and support to demystify the procurement processes which many organisations are unfamiliar with and provide capacity building through group and one to one sessions focusing on bid writing skills, outcomes and outputs, working in consortia and partnerships, developing a co-production approach and resource management.  The timetable of events will be published shortly.

Procurement process

They are also committed to ensuring the processes are proportionate to the levels of funding available.  This will include making use of the Council’s streamlined process for lower value contracts known as Request for Quote (RfQ) and, where higher value contracts have to go through the full tender process, keeping the level of detail required proportionate.

One of the most frequently expressed concerns from VCS organisations is that the procurement process will encourage larger regional and national organisations to bid, potentially to the detriment of local services.  The procurement process must be open and transparent and for higher value contracts may not give any favourable consideration simply because a supplier is local.  However, Commissioning has at its heart gaining best value for local people in the delivery of services.  Where the local connection and knowledge of the community is an integral element of the value of a service, this will be part of the evaluation of tender process.  This means that bids will be required to show local knowledge and local connection and that the value of this will be reflected in the evaluation and scoring process.  The use of RfQs for lower value contracts, where considering local purchasing and the value to the local economy is encouraged, will also assist in ensuring local experience and expertise is fully recognised and valued. 

The Council will be providing training and support for organisations that have not used the tendering processes, help them register and give advice if they encounter any difficulties.


The timetable will be slightly different depending on the procurement route.  The table below sets out the timescale for new services to be in place by 1 October 2019.

Late autumn - Finalisation of services to be procured through full tender process

Late autumn/winter - Bids invited through full tender process &Finalisation of services to be procured through RfQ

Winter/spring - Bids for lower value contracts invited through RfQ process

Spring/early summer - Bid evaluation

Early summer - Decisions made and contracts awarded

Summer/early autumn - Contract mobilisation

Transitional support

Until decisions are made on funding specific services it is not possible to predict precisely the impact of the change from MSG funding to Community Commissioning.  However, it is inevitable that in any change there are winners and losers.  It is therefore important to have measures in place to mitigate any potential disproportionate impact.  The measures planned are:

  • A programme of support for VCS organisations available in advance of the end of MSG to help organisations in the transition from MSG to either alternative funding or an orderly change in the level of service delivered;
  • Potential funding through the new corporate grants programme, and
  • Potential support from the Council’s Emergency Fund.

Further information

The Council will be providing further updates and FAQs over the coming weeks and months.  Links will be sent to relevant pages on the Council’s website along with ensuring the most up to date information is also available on the THCVS website.

If you have questions or would like further information, please contact THCVS at and we will get the answer and then also post it up on this page.


UPDATE - 4/06/2018

We attach a copy of a letter from the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, concerning Community Commissioning and the extension of the current Mainstream Grants Programme to 30 September 2019.

The decisions on the individual grant extensions to 30 September 2019 will be made by the Council’s Grants Determination (Cabinet) Sub-Committee on 6th June 2018.  The agenda is published on the Council’s website later today and you will be able to find it at   

If you are an MSG funded organisation and have any queries about how the extension may affect you, please contact your monitoring officer in the Third Sector Team if they have not already been in touch with you.

The purpose of extending MSG is to allow more time for engagement in the development of the new Community Commissioning programme. The council's Community Commissioning Team will be providing more information shortly.

What this means for MSG-funded groups:

  • Most MSG-funded groups will have by now been contacted by their relevant council contact.
  • Most MSG-funded groups will see their grants (subject to Cabinet approval on 6 June) extended up to 30th September 2019
  • MSG-funded groups will have more time to influece the shape Community Commissioning Programme and to prepare themselves to transition to it
  • THCVS is here to support any groups who have questions or concerns about this change - please do contact us if you need adivce or support around any of these issues - call 020 8980 8427 or email Damian

From 1st October 2019, the new community commissioning programme will start

What does this mean for the wider voluntary sector in Tower Hamlets

Those groups who do not receive MSG funding will have the opportunity to engage with additional co-production opportunities with the council which will inform and shape the new programme, as well as take part in additional training, networking opportunities, and partnership and consortium-building to respond to the new commissioning programme.


UPDATE -19 April 2018

Community Commissioning Workshop - Detailed Proposals, Priorities, and Themes (Second Workshop)

Download Workshop slides here

Download Timeline for introduction of Community Commissioning

Download Community Commissioning Cross-cutting Principles and Themes

The well attended Community Commissioning workshop on Monday 16 April, looked at the emerging shape of the new proposed Community Commissioning Programme. The programme will have a number of Cross-cutting Principles, which all commissioned services will be expected to evidence in tender bids, and during delivery of commissioned services.

The Cross-cutting Principles are split between overarching outcomes - 'Empowerment and Community Cohesion' and 'Reducing Poverty', and two Delivery Principles, 'Preventative Approaches' and 'Co-production'.

Sitting underneath these cross-cutting principles, there have been identified five overall Community Commissioning themes:

  • Inclusion, Health, and Wellbeing
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Information, Advice, and Guidance
  • Employment and Skills
  • Community Safety

The second part of the workshop looked in more detail at the indicative outcomes and the related directorate. Participants were asked about their thoughts on the outcomes, and discussion around what might be missing from the draft plans.

UPDATE - 9th April 2018:

Community Commissioning Workshop - Detailed Proposals, Priorities, and Themes (Second Workshop)

Book your place here

Monday 16th April 2018at 2-5pm,  at the Professional Development Centre, 229 Bethnal Green Road, E2 6AB.

Tower Hamlets Council is holding the next Community Commissioning Workshop

Tower Hamlets Council has been holding a series of open workshops, co-facilitated by Carney Green and the New Economics Foundation, to design the new Community Commissioning programme, that will succeed Mainstream Grants in April 2019. This workshop follows on from our workshop on the 27th March and will provide the main opportunity to determine the final detail of the programme.

Please register to confirm your attendance and find further workshop information on this page.

Further information on previous workshops can be found below.

You are also welcome to contact Elvis Langley on 020 7364 4150, or email to find out more.

The last Community Commissioning workshop, on the 27th March 2018, brought people together to discuss progress so far with the Community Commissioning process. The workshop sought to

  • Clarifying evidence of need and stakeholders
  • Identify priority outcomes for named stakeholders –informed by objective criteria
  • Begin mapping outcomes for priority outcomes

You can find slides from this workshop here and further details for the next Community Commissioning workshop below.

While the last workshop reflected an open process, the next workshop in this series will move further into the detail of the information received by the council and determine the final shape of the programme. It is recommend that groups attendance this workshop, as the last workshop in this series. However, if you are unable to attend, we will be developing an online survey for input and you are also welcome to continue the dialogue directly with Elvis Langley on 020 7364 4150, or email


UPDATE - 5th March 2018:


"Tower Hamlets Council is holding a short information and networking event about the Community Commissioning programme and other proposed changes to council funding for voluntary and community sector groups at 5pm on Monday the 12th March 2018 at the Reach Community Hub, 11 Oliphant Street, E14.

Please register to confirm your attendance here 

Join Tower Hamlets Council staff and Mayor John Biggs, at this information and networking event to discuss:

  • The end of the Mainstream Grants scheme (from April 2019) and design of the new Community Commissioning programme that will succeed it
  • Changes to Council grants outlined in the new Council Grants Policy (from April 2019)
  • Opportunities for the local organisations and community groups to influence the changes, and how to be prepared for them
  • We will also discuss capacity building support around the changes being offered to the sector.

This event is being held at the mid-point of the co-design of the new Community Commissioning programme (which will be the main focus of the event). So far over 50 organisations have helped shape the overall approach for the process. The next stage is to design the programme detail, including themes and strands. 

Tea/coffee and light refreshments will be offered. The Reach Community Hub is on the pedestrianised part of Oliphant Street, which is accessible via Woolmore Street, or Poplar High Street. Here it is on google maps.

The next Community Commissioning workshop will be held on the 27th March, more information here. Please expect more detail in the next few days.

If you wish to discuss this event, or anything connected to the Community Commissioning process, please call Elvis Langley on 020 7364 4150 or email


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 internal sessions 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.



*  THCVS is undertaking a separate piece of work about the new grants programme.  We've set up a separate page on our site for this work.


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.