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This project for the physically disabled in Herefordshire sits well with our overall community care philosophy of putting the needs of users and their carers first and involving them in decisions about the care that they receive. Community care is a complex and long-term undertaking, involving partnerships between public, private and voluntary agencies. None the less, the new arrangements have already brought us the beginnings of care which is better tailored to individual users' needs, for day, domiciliary, residential and nursing care.

We are listening carefully to users and their carers, and increasing numbers of them are beginning to benefit from the improved choices in care options available. People now have a better chance of being offered the help and support that they need to remain in their own homes--as my hon. Friend said, they should have the option of doing that. It is, after all, what most people want.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, and suggested that what he described could be one way of fulfilling the intentions of that Act. He may well be right. In some ways, the community care reforms have overtaken the remaining provisions of the Act, and the reforms demonstrate our commitment to high-quality community care, responsive to the needs and wishes of service users and carers.

The whole thrust of that policy is towards enablement. We are supporting advocacy projects that aim to help those with particular needs. So, as my hon. Friend said, schemes such as the one that he has highlighted may be the way to develop that aspect of the intentions behind the 1986 Act.

We have made sure that the new community care arrangements have been properly funded, and we shall continue to do so. This year, a further special transitional grant of £736 million is being made available to English local authorities solely for community care. That takes the total over two years to more than £1.2 billion. The grant this year includes an extra £20 million to encourage further development of respite care and other services that give carers a well earned break.

Joint working between local authorities and the NHS is generally good. The agreements that we required to be made on hospital discharge arrangements have had a positive effect in furthering the co-operative working that is so essential if users and their carers are to receive care that is both comprehensive and seamless. The independent sector has played an important part in community care to date, and I am sure that it will have an important role to play in the future. There is a challenge here for local authorities, the independent sector, and users and carers to work together to shape the future.

I believe that there is still much greater potential for the independent sector to move into day and domiciliary care provision. We have a great opportunity to cultivate and nurture it now--one which I am not prepared to see wasted. Users and carers would not forgive us if we were to miss the opportunity to extend the range of services available to them. They can play a full part in helping us to design the pattern of future provision.

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So often, the independent sector brings a freshness of ideas, and a willingness to innovate and be flexible. Built on the solid foundations of their experience and quality, that gives new opportunities for users and carers--and, indeed, for social services and health planners.

We have a continuing commitment to the mixed economy of care. That is how we can secure a full range of services to meet the many diverse needs of vulnerable people all over the country. There is no question of preferring one sector at the expense of others; we simply want good care to be favoured over poor, the cost-effective over the wasteful, the imaginative over the dull, and the best over the adequate, so as to bring about effective, efficient provision for all users, whatever the sector.

From the beginning of our new arrangements, we have had a full monitoring programme so that we can keep a check on progress, and also so that we can see and disseminate best practice and innovation--ideas such as Lifestyles. This year, we shall want local authorities to report on, for example, how assessment is working, how users and carers are being involved and what new services are being bought to extend the range available. That, too, is relevant to Lifestyles.

Earlier this year, we announced our plans to extend the benefits of the citizens charter to community care. That will help us to ensure that users and carers are in a position to make informed choices about the kind of care that they receive. Again, schemes such as Lifestyles can have an increasing role to play.

The Government fully recognise the important role played by carers, and the dedicated and often arduous work involved in caring for a loved one. That is why the

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community care reforms aim to promote the development of domiciliary, day and respite services for those receiving community care in their own homes.

Our community care reforms make it clear that the voices of users and carers must be heard and listened to by those responsible for purchasing and providing services. To ensure that I as the Minister responsible was also hearing and listening, we set up the National User and Carer Group to give us its experience of community care and to help us monitor its implementation.

However, as my hon. Friend has said, it is locally that advocacy comes into its own. That is true, whether it is advocacy or self-advocacy. It is perhaps the former that we have had the chance to consider tonight--the helping hand and the helping voice enabling people with disabilities to achieve and to enjoy the fullest and highest possible quality of life. In the example given by my hon. Friend this evening, he has shown how there can be the added dimension of disabled people themselves providing the hand and the voice to help others with disabilities. That is real added value.

Mr. Colin Shepherd: I am most grateful for what my hon. Friend has said, and for his commitment. It would be a matter of enormous pleasure if, in his busy schedule, he could find time to come to Hereford and to see what we are doing as part of that visit.

Mr. Bowis: I close by thanking my hon. Friend for taking the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the work of Herefordshire Lifestyles. Yes, I should very much like to visit the scheme and to see it in action when I am next in his area. Meanwhile, I join him in wishing success to all working in the area of Lifestyles and advocacy, and to all who need their services. Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Ten o'clock.

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