|Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 57)
Mr. Burstow: I entirely accept the Minister's point about the savings that can arise, but in the health service those savings will arise from managing discharge better. If the social services department is assisting the health service in doing that, will some of those savings be capable of being recycled, especially where we are not using pooled budgets or any of the other innovations introduced in the 1999 Act?
Mr. Denham: It is an odd way to put it—``especially where people are not co-operating using the new Act''. I would rather put it the other way around and say that there are new opportunities to use health service money in ways that will improve both health and social care provision. For example, we expect part of the money allocated through the Budget for the coming year and future years to be used to develop new intermediate care services, providing the bridge between hospital and home that is so often lacking. That is a new investment of money which will help both health and social services.
I was asked about the dissemination of best practice. Department officials have regular regional meetings with social care and health care staff, and those occasions are used to review the ways in which joint working is progressing, to share experience and to identify areas where improvements need to be made. Therefore, the spreading of best practice, which the hon. Member for Meriden is right to say is essential to this activity, is taking place.
I am chopping from item to item. More widely on best practice, I think that most objective observers would accept that, although there were considerable pressures on the health service this winter, one of the areas in which there was significant improvement on previous years was in the quality of joint planning and implementation at local level between the health service and the social services. As I said, the partnership grant was one of the sources of funding for that. An extensive programme is under way in the Department; the team that oversaw all the planning for the millennium period will take that forward. Examples of good working practice are being identified and spread through the system.
There was a question about planning at local level for the use of the partnership grant. I did not take part in last year's debate, but I have been advised that the guidance was issued to local authorities before the beginning of the last financial year. No doubt we can pursue that matter later, if necessary.
Mrs. Spelman: I acknowledge that we have been given some assistance today in looking forward, but, given the lack of confidence that social services departments have about how much the grant will be each year, producing the guidance halfway through the year creates problems for those departments in employing staff. As I am sure the Minister is aware, it is difficult to get good-quality staff in social services— an area in which it is important to have staff of the highest quality—to work on such short-term contracts. Such staff are in short supply, and the lack of time for a forward look, even in the remaining time contained in the Minister's budgeting plan, means that it is difficult to get the right people, because they would be better paid in a permanent job elsewhere.
Mr. Denham: I hear the hon. Lady's point. She acknowledges that people will know what is happening under each of the headings for the next two years. The conclusions of the spending review, which includes personal social services, will be reported in July. There will be a period of a few months during which we will not know what will happen beyond the next two years, but it will not be an extended period. It should be possible to look forward at the overall funding for social services and any areas of special provision that may arise.
The final point to which I need to respond relates to the national priorities guidance. There was a suggestion that there was a conflict between the health service's national priorities guidance and the priorities for social services. In fact, for the past two years, at least, there has been a single document. The national priorities guidance produced by the Department of Health—in November or December, in the past two years—is a joint document for health and social services. The Government introduced that innovation, in recognition of the fact that it made no sense for services that are so closely related to make separate plans.
I hope that I have done justice to the issues raised. We have considered most of the important issues and it has been a useful debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Special Grant Report (No. 56)
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|Prepared 6 April 2000