Lorraine Regan head of SP at CLG says “...the reality is we have never had that control over how local authorities have spent the funding.”
Firstly, that now infers and correctly that CLG doesn’t now have any control over how councils spend this still named grant. I will return to this shortly.
However, CLG and ODPM before that did exercise very close and prescribed control over what local authorities could spend SP funding on. The grant conditions now removed along with the ring fence were part of that control as were statutory directions and statutory guidance issued to all authorities.
For example the decision-making body who commissioned services – the commissioning body or CB – firstly needed to be in place with members coming from all partners in housing, social services, health and probation, and was constituted on a one man one vote basis. The SP team would recommend decisions to the CB who would then agree (or not) and then that decision needed to be approved by elected councillors. The CB was further constrained into what decisions it could take in accordance with the statutory guidance and directions and grant conditions and was advised of these constraints by the SP teams.
There is now no need for a commissioning body at all or any need for a SP team and councillors can now delegate decisions to the decision making body whatever that is now called. In simple terms the highly prescribed system in place before the ring fence removal happened is now gone and carte blanche is in place. Additionally local authorities don’t have to account to central government on what and how much they spend and as stated previously CLG doesn’t even bother with any monitoring or impose any monitoring requirements on local authorities.
CLG were simply convinced by local councils saying we know local needs so give us full freedom to spend SP monies on what we want – it really was that vague strategy that convinced CLG. The more cynical and correct knowing that it meant CLG would be absolved of any blame whatsoever in doing this. £1.6bn a year so central could blame local government is a high price.
Those knowledgeable about SP will recall the very early days when councils were accused of ‘cost-shunting’- moving care cases onto support so SP paid for them and not from local budgets. Local councils were condemned by central government – with some justification as I can recall (and still have the figures) that some local councils SP budgets (a) had a majority of funding going to in-house services formerly paid for by local budgets (b) one council with former care service taking a whopping 46% of the entire budget for one service, and (c) one local authority had moved over 80 of its former care homes from registered care into supported living – or in simple terms paid for by central government through SP where previously paid for by local council out of their budget.
Yet now we see cost-shunting being acceptable and the norm because removing the ringfence also created a huge conflict of interest amongst local councils decision makers. The governance issues are horrendous.
The former CBs are now delegated to social service departments in the main who have the choice between paying the discretionary spend that SP is on in-house services or on external ones the former reduce their mandatory duties and deficits, funding the latter means deficits increase and mandatory spend increases.
The replacements for CBs may as well be a Gentleman’s club awarding their colleagues and their own services funding and with no one or no body bothering to check on this. There is a complete absence of governance arrangements and so local councils can spend this £1.6bn per year on anything they want with no checks or balances.
Put yourself in the place of a Director of Social Services running a deficit on in-house services (often mandatory spend) and ask would you fund these services or fund a discretionary spend on an external support service? A no-brainer obviously and especially because there are no conditions on what service you can spend it on and no one is going to come back and say you shouldn’t have done that! Even more of a no-brainer and a complete absence of governance and accountability that cannot be acceptable.
Even support services that save the public purse are not exempt. Many recent decisions on service reductions or decommissions I’m aware of were made because the public purse benefits (which some apologists call non-cashable as an excuse) were going to Police, Criminal Justice of NHS – that is anyone but the local council. Local councils are therefore shafting their partners as well as providers. Of course they are also shafting neighboring authorities too. If we don’t fund a homeless service then it closes and the homeless / DV / any other client group especially NIMBY ones will go out of borough. Hence this is what is happening.
Anyone with an IQ of greater than 3 could have and did predict this yet even the most cynical did not expect this to happen so quickly. The most pessimistic were predicting 20% cuts as the absolute maximum yet we are seeing many local councils (Liverpool, Notts, and Cornwall) with 25, 30 and 40% cuts. If they can get away with this why can’t we will be the refrain of many social service directors (who are still delighted that they were given responsibility for SP spend on housing-related support despite having no housing stock or housing experience!!)
Support is not just dead and buried; its graves are being opened up and urinated on. The few successes of SP such as quality of service through the QAF are now being lost in the ever-increasing search for non-existent cost cuts and those losses join the huge loss of expertise and knowledge that has been seen with experienced and necessary staff being priced out of SP services as this is the only way to win tenders. All support is generic local councils claim and that old chestnut “SP was only meant to fund ‘low-level’ support despite the fact that the term ‘low-level was only ever mentioned once in SP documents. This was the HB circular that stated low-level floating support was up to 5 hours per person per week (medium at 5 -21 and high level at 21 hours+ per person per week).
Very few receive 5 hours per person per week and in councils views this is a very high level service. The same councils that choose floating support over accommodation-based support as Little Johnny shouldn’t have to move into Accommodation to get support. Nice sentiment and nice theory yet one hour of floating support costs £23.02 and one hour of accommodation-based support was £17.28 – both 2005 actual in-payment figures.
So guess which services are being commissioned by the great and the good? Of course the much more costly floating support services – and this by the same cognoscenti that CLG now wants to design payment by result contracts!!!
The fact that by definition floating support involves visiting vulnerable people means it needs to include travel costs (more downtime) and that it has to be less responsive than on-site support and overall one FS worker has the capacity to deliver about 60% of the support one on-site support worker can clearly don’t factor into any commissioning decision on cost or quality shows just how well commissioners will design payment by result contracts!!
Then we have commissioners now getting away with dodgy and unlawful practices that were formerly constrained by the same grant conditions that Lorraine Regan says CLG never had! All because no-one checks and no-one has any monitoring role to do that. I’m talking of the council tricks CLG stopped such as one council that wanted not to fund rough sleepers at all as grant conditions were changed from vulnerable people ‘in the community’ to those ‘in accommodation’ which by definition all rough sleepers are. I distinctly remember ODPM (now CLG) intervening to stop this – so much for no control!
Or councils that now demand 100% referral arrangements as a condition of funding – and yes the performance factor of payment by result still keeps that risk with the provider! If the council doesn’t refer they run voids and can’t meet performance targets and therefore lose funding. Or the councils that now impose ‘social dumping’ – that is dumping their problem cases on providers with these 100% referral stipulations and so again providers can’t have a hope in hells chance of meeting the performance targets of payment by result.
Accept these nefarious conditions or don’t get the tender is the maxim now. Oh and by the way we are withholding 20% of contract value for this!!
I need to say that this is not a reflection on (most) SP teams as they are now sidelined if they still exist. These are the decisions of bean counters and the great and good directors of social services who now have no conditions or monitoring or any governance on what they spend SP funds on now.
I would detail the unlawful actions that are going on but cant as they would identify the councils involved and my provider sources. Yet they are going on and contract conditions being added that are not just unfair contract terms (ie legally unenforceable) but written evidence of unlawful practices by such councils. Yet the risks of councils being sued councils believe must be so remote that they commit these to writing – either that or they are incompetent in the extreme and don’t know what they are doing....
The above is a tiny bit of the context of payment by result and the SP environment that makes past actions such as terminating a contract by SMS text an hour before the local press announces it (yes an actual example) seem tame by comparison.
The financial cost these decisions will have for the public purse in a few years time will be astronomical ...oh I’ve just heard Cameron speaking at LGA saying you at local government have been far more efficient than us at central government and that’s why we are so determined to introduce Localism...hmmmmm!
Coffee break over better get back to work!