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Column 891Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Lynne, Ms Liz
Maddock, Mrs Diana
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Simon Hughes and
Mr. Archy Kirkwood.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Madam Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its far sighted education reforms which are driving up standards and giving more responsibility to schools, more choice to parents and more opportunities to our young people ; believes that the Government's commitment to a high quality education service is further demonstrated by the record sums it is spending ; notes that the superficial policies advanced by the Liberal Democratic Party bear remarkable similarity to the policies advanced by Her Majesty's Opposition ; further notes that those policies appear to revolve around reversing all the measures taken by Her Majesty's Government to raise standards and increase choice ; notes the admission by the Liberal Democratic Party that it is a party committed to raising taxes, yet condemns its inability to demonstrate any clear linkage between a demand for more income tax and a well developed and defined set of educational policies on which additional tax revenues are to be spent ; and believes that the Liberal Democrats' commitment to education would be better shown by ceasing its practice of campaigning in an underhand fashion against ballots of parents for grant maintained status, which the House utterly deplores.
That the Special Grant Report (No. 10) (House of Commons Paper No. 218), which was laid before this House on 17th February, be approved.
This report sets out the proposed allocation of the special transitional grant to local authorities in England for the next financial year for expenditure on community care services. It also describes the main features of the grant and the conditions that the Government intend to attach to its use.
I am always happy to discuss the success of community care policy. At this time last year, we were knee-deep in predictions of doom and disaster, and I am pleased--but far from surprised--that we can now look back on a very sound and promising beginning.
No one was more keen to forecast doom and gloom than the Labour party. The Opposition are like Christopher Robin on an off day--kneeling at the foot of their beds praying that something will go wrong. How cross they were when it did not. They said that community care would be underfunded by about £1 billion. Then they dropped their bid to £70 million--I suppose that that was a mere blip in Labour economics.
Social services departments had the nerve to say that they thought that the funding was fair and were savaged by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), to the extent that he provoked a response in Community Care magazine from the director of social services in the London borough of Croydon, who said :
"Having failed to alter the national political map for the past 13 years, Blunkett, like so many other disgruntled and frustrated politicians, goes home and kicks the cat ; In this case local councillors and directors of social services."
They kicked in vain, however.
The report represents the Government's tangible commitment to the continued success of the new arrangements. It transfers about £736 million to local authorities. Taken together with the funding rolled forward from the current year, that means that, next year, authorities will have more than £1.2 billion available to meet their new community care responsibilities.
Most authorities now realise that, used sensibly, that is sufficient for the job. That sum is, of course, in addition to the personal social services standard spending assessment resources, a substantial part of which has always been used for domiciliary and day services and public sector residential care.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermonsdey) : I have just come to the House from a meeting about the Government's proposed plans to run down Guy's hospital. Do the figures--in Southwark's case a little more than £6 million--allow for the additional burden on the community care budget of the plans for reducing services in some parts of the capital's health service?
Mr. Bowis : The hon. Gentleman referred to the increase that Southwark council is to receive this year. He got the figure wrong, but he got right the fact that it is an increase--from about £56 million to about £66 million, which is an increase of 16.4 per cent. If Southwark council is well managed and can use its resources efficiently--he will have to tell me whether it is, and whether it is capable
Column 893of doing that--it will certainly be able to cater for the community care needs of people in the borough during the coming year. I was saying that I was especially glad that this year we have been able to include a further £20 million in next year's grant over and above the total that had previously been announced. I hope that that will please the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. The aim is to encourage the further development of respite and home care services.
Indeed, the level of diversification, enabling people to have a real choice between staying in their own home--where possible--and moving to residential care is one of the success stories of the past 11 months. In many parts of the country, diversion to domiciliary care is proceeding faster than anyone had expected, and we are getting reports of rates of 10 per cent. or more. That is one of the factors that have allowed us to speed up some of the transitional aspects of the grant.
In particular, we have been able to phase out the use of historical data about income support claims from residents of care homes and nursing homes as a basis for distributing the grant between authorities. Instead, we can now use the personal social services standard spending assessments exclusively, the same basis as for virtually all other social services funding. The effects of the move will benefit more than two thirds of authorities.
Another of this year's successes has been our commitment to real choice for users of community care services, whether residential or domiciliary. Continued success depends on a continuing diversity of service providers, especially in the independent sector. I have, however, been disturbed by the number of complaints that I have received from proprietors and managers of private and voluntary care homes who allege that some local authorities are willing to waste money by ignoring the independent sector and placing people in much more expensive council-owned establishments.
The importance of the independent sector to community care reforms can hardly be overstated, and the Government will continue to support its role.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : As the Minister said, choice is an important issue. Will he acknowledge that the requirement in the current and the next financial year to spend 85 per cent. of the special transitional grant in the independent sector restricts choice? In many instances, it means forcing people into expensive institutional care because of the lack of domiciliary care and support at a local level.
Mr. Bowis : Of course it does not. Before community care, 100 per cent. of the moneys that came from social security went to the independent sector. We are talking now about the 85 per cent. of the transfer element that we are asking--indeed, requiring--local authorities to spend in the independent sector. It is a modest demand and has nothing to do with the disbursement of the moneys that were previously spent on domiciliary and day care and which came from the broad social service budgets.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his colleagues in local government to play their part in ensuring that the independent sectors-- private and voluntary--can diversify and help to provide a wider choice for people, whether for residential or domiciliary care.
Column 894Local authorities should use their purchasing power to develop and stimulate new independent sector services, especially in the day and domiciliary spheres. I expect authorities to consider all potential providers and to strive for quality and value for money at all times. The independent sector has been a major player in community care services for many years, and its expertise must be harnessed to the challenges of the new policy. I want private and voluntary providers to be fully involved in the planning and provision of the range of services needed.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : Will the Minister acknowledge that changing from a formula based partly on income support payments and partly on SSAs to a formula based wholly on SSAs seriously disadvantages some authorities? In a letter to me three weeks ago, he said that such a distribution mechanism
"involves both winners and losers".
He went on :
"I recognise that there are some authorities, like North Yorkshire, whose special transitional grant will be lower next year than they had been anticipating."
In fact, it will be more than £3 million lower, even after assurances that the change would be phased in over a number of years. How does the Minister expect an authority such as North Yorkshire, which has a traditionally low spend--in my view, too low a spend--on social services for the elderly to deal suddenly with a £3 million cut in its budget without severely disadvantaging the elderly people who rely on its services?
Mr. Bowis : I know that the hon. Gentleman will be in close touch with the North Yorkshire social services department, and I ask him to go back and discuss with it the precise figure that we are offering this year. He will find that, instead of a cut, there is an increase of about £10 million--or 15.2 per cent.--for social services as a whole. Will he then ask why, if the social services department in his county is so concerned about its ability to look after local people in need, the authority has underspent by about £5 million on its social services budget in the current year? There was £55 million in its standard spending assessment for this year, but only £50 million in its budget.
We shall again require all authorities to use most of their grant on services provided by the independent sector. Moreover, that condition is cumulative, so that next year authorities' independent sector expenditure must increase significantly over that for this year. I shall also give some thought to our definition of the word "independent". [Laughter.]
The hon. Member for Brightside laughs, and I am not surprised. Many people have laughed at some of the devices employed. I have serious doubts about some homes that in theory have been transferred from councils to charitable trusts and so on, but which do not seem to be truly free from local authority interference and influence. If I think it necessary, I shall amend the definition in the condition accordingly.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) : Will the Minister comment on our experience in Nottinghamshire, where, when the county council was forced to contemplate the closure of homes, several housing associations and not-for-profit associations in the voluntary sector went through the books with the council to find out whether they could run the schemes?
Column 895What am I to say to the housing associations whose representatives have written to me explaining their reason for pulling out of such a transfer was that, on the basis of the existing formula, they would not be able to run the homes without reducing staffing standards to dangerously low levels that would threaten the standard of care for the residents?
Mr. Bowis : For a start, the hon. Gentleman would do well to examine the current record of Nottinghamshire social services department, which is indeed giving us great cause for concern. I have had to invite the director and chairman to come to my office to discuss the situation, and to see how they can put Nottinghamshire social services back on a proper, fair and just footing.
I also suggest that the hon. Gentleman considers the figures and, realising that this year Nottinghamshire's resources will increase from £108 million to £122 million, sees whether he can persuade the county to provide a decent service in the best interests of the people of Nottinghamshire.
We provide more than financial support. We have put in place a careful programme of monitoring and evaluation, and every authority has been visited at least twice to discuss progress, and to offer advice where appropriate. The outcome of the monitoring has been encouraging, and I have already referred to some of it. Not only are the basic structures all in place, but it is clear that people are already being offered more appropriate support.
Generally, people who would previously have looked to the social security system for support can now get a timely assessment of their needs. There do not seem to be widespread backlogs. However, a number of authorities report that their procedures have turned out to be over-complex. They are reviewing them, and I hope that that will lead to simpler and more comprehensive procedures. I am also conscious of the message that I have received from my own national users and carers group that the information and communications for users and potential users leaves room for considerable improvement. Fortunately, a great deal of enthusiasm and energy seem to be going into improving consultation with and involvement of both users and carers. There are welcome signs of users and carers becoming much more involved in the assessment procedures, although there is still a long way to go.