As part of CCVO’s ongoing role as a convener and collaborator, we are constantly taking the pulse of the sector. Over the past few months we have encountered some perceptions, and concerns, from service providers around procurement initiatives underway and planned in Human Services.
These concerns have arisen for a variety of reasons, and are also linked to the very natural uncertainty that comes from working with a new government. In an effort to ensure people’s concerns are based on facts, rather than misunderstanding or speculation, CCVO reached out to the Ministry of Human Services with some direct questions around the goals, impetus and process of the procurement initiative.
Below are the verbatim responses to the questions CCVO posed to the Ministry.
1. What is the procurement initiative and what does it set out to achieve?
As part of its evolution to an integrated service delivery model, Human Services is reviewing its key business processes, including assessing how contract and grant funding is provided to a range of service providers. This review includes aligning multiple contracting tools and practices into an integrated approach, and implementing opportunities for more open and transparent procurement across the ministry.
The shift to more coordinated, transparent and competitive procurement is a significant undertaking that will follow a phased approach over the coming years. The first major initiative is the implementation of province-wide Pre-Qualified Resource (PQR) lists for a range of services, including child and family services, and services to individuals with disabilities.
The primary objective of a PQR list is to ensure fair, transparent and open access to qualified service providers so Albertans can receive the supports and services they need. The use of PQR lists is considered good business practice, and is also a requirement under the Government of Alberta’s Treasury Board directive on sole sourcing, developed in response to Albertans’ expectations of transparency and accountability.
- What was the impetus?
The creation of Human Services in 2011 brought together a range of social programs from five different departments, each with its own way of procuring services and supports.
This resulted in a fragmented approach to contract and grant management that is administratively burdensome, both for staff and the service providers with whom Human Services contracts. To reduce this burden, the ministry needs to align its contracting function with what is envisioned for an integrated service delivery model.
In addition, Human Services has developed extensive sole-source relationships with service providers over time, and the procurement of services and supports often lacks transparency, clarity and consistency in contracting practices and how contracts are awarded. The government’s 2014 Procurement and Sole-Sourcing Policy states that government must use competitive procurement processes or, when sole sourcing is required, must select from an approved list of vendors.
- How is the Province responding to those who are concerned about continuity of care for vulnerable populations and where long-term trust relationships exist?
Minimizing disruption to vulnerable Albertans and ensuring access to quality services and supports are priorities for Human Services today and in the future. The implementation of PQR lists will provide assurance to Albertans receiving services and supports that service providers contracted by Human Services meet a consistent set of minimum qualifications.
While Human Services intends to move to more open and competitive procurement approaches, we recognize that sole sourcing will continue to be required in some cases based on the specialized nature of services, potential for client disruption, requirements for client choice, or because there is only one qualified service provider. Decisions about the most appropriate procurement approaches will be made by regional contracting staff, who will work closely with clients and service providers to support quality care, client choice and continuity of care.
- How will pricing and wages be handled?
The implementation of PQR lists does not impact costing for contracted services and/or supports, including wage allowances. Costing decisions will be made at the regional level, on a contract-by-contract basis, based on a defined service need, and will be reflected in the individual service agreements.
- Does the government wish to reduce the number of contracted service providers?
There is no intention to reduce the number of contracted service providers.
Ensuring access to a variety of service providers, small and large, with a range of service approaches, is important to ensure that we can support the unique and complex needs of the Albertans we serve. The PQR process will support this by providing a more fair and consistent process for all qualified service providers who wish to be considered for future work with Human Services. In fact, we anticipate this process may result in a greater number of service providers because extensive sole-sourced arrangements have historically limited opportunities for prospective vendors to obtain work with the ministry.
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