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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 63) on the Invest to Save Grant (House of Commons Paper No. 538)

Fifth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 10 July 2000

[Sir David Madel in the Chair]

Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 63)

4.30 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): On a point of order, Mr. Madel. I received notification of my appointment to the Committee this morning. The notice reached my office on Friday last week. Will you draw the attention of the appropriate authority, perhaps through the usual channels, to the fact that that does not give Committee members a long time to obtain necessary papers and, if required, to research items in a report? We are supposed to scrutinise legislation carefully and in detail, but I have had insufficient time to prepare.

The Chairman: The supply of papers is a matter not for the Chair but for the Government. I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench heard the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): Further to that point of order, Sir David. I did not receive notice of the Committee. I only know about it because I made an effort to speak to the Whips Office. I have received no paperwork. Such behaviour is endemic in the system that runs the Palace of Westminster. I hope that it will not continue.

The Chairman: I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said.

4.31 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 63) on the Invest to Save Grant (House of Commons Paper No. 538).

The invest to save programme is a cross-Government scheme which is led by the Treasury. It gives financial support to projects that bring together two or more public service bodies in innovative ways. Thirteen social services departments successfully bid for money last autumn in an open competition with other parts of local government, the national health service and Government agencies.

Since the Labour party came into office in 1997, we have stressed that public services must be delivered in a more joined-up way. That means making use of information, especially information technology. Such information is central to the delivery of services. It should not be an afterthought. It means using the new powers in the Health Act 1999 to deliver services that put users, not providers, first. It also means realising that public services have more impact—and often more relevance—when they enter into a partnership with users, carers and voluntary groups. The successful applications demonstrated that all local parties can agree key objectives and a plan to deliver them. As a result, local government and the NHS are working closer together and not in isolation.

The invest to save projects are part of the second wave of schemes to be funded by the initiative. The Government have made £45 million available for funding in the current financial year, with some schemes being funded over two years. Most of the money—80 per cent.—has gone to support revenue expenditure. Each department put up a list of schemes that it thought best met the challenging criteria of invest to save. A committee comprising representatives of the Treasury, Cabinet Office and Audit Commission produced the final list of schemes that warranted support. The schemes had to demonstrate multi-agency support, have clear project milestones and demonstrate clearly how joint working would improve the end service to users.

We also wanted to capture the wider lessons that could be learned from the schemes. The key messages will be spread across local government and inform future rounds of the invest to save programme. The awarding of almost £4.3 million—nearly one tenth of the overall invest to save budget—to social services departments this year shows how well they have responded to the challenge of integrated working. Some of the schemes—seven, I think—will attract an additional £1.3 million in the next financial year. A total of nearly £5.6 million will go towards supporting innovation in social services.

Some of the successful schemes aim to make information exchange between different parts of the same service—children's, mental health or older people's services—more efficient. Others concentrate on improving the overall quality of and access to information from public services to the public. For example, in Gateshead, the council is using the existing network of 19 library websites to provide information on the healthy citizen and the safe citizen. A user steering group, bringing together local voluntary sector groups, women's health groups and the Gateshead Council on Disability, is advising on implementation of the project. The aim of the project is to co-ordinate a wide variety of information in a single website and to ensure that the information is easily accessible and not located in just a few places.

A similar aim is being pursued by a different method in Braintree. An internet link will bring together health information that can then be accessed from a range of locations: social services, housing offices and health visitors. Local consultation is being taken seriously. The public are being consulted through the use of village appraisals and a partnership board has been set up. The promotion of social inclusion is, of course, a key concern of the Government, and is a key element of our e-Government strategy. That scheme shows how rural isolation can be attacked through IT developments.

In Stoke-on-Trent, the council, police service and the national health service are working together to provide better access to public information and improved information flows between public services, including the voluntary sector. New information kiosks will be located in different public service bodies. Improved links between health and social services departments will allow direct referrals, with relevant information being provided by general practitioners to social services and from hospitals to social services on discharge. A similar scheme is being established in Thurrock—also in Essex— between social services and the NHS trusts.

Mr. Jack: The Minister is giving the Committee a description of the projects that are part of the scheme. Will he tell the Committee whether that description is a requirement of section 88B(5) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which determines the nature of the report before the Committee?

Mr. Hutton: I thought that it might be helpful for the Committee to have this information. I have no idea what the answer to that question is regarding section 88B(5) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. The right hon. Gentleman has probably been involved in several special grant reports, possibly more than I have, although I seem to spend considerable time on them. All the reports with which I have been involved have attempted to explain aspects of the grants that are to be approved. I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes his scrutiny responsibilities seriously and spends a great deal of time scrutinising the Executive—a useful pastime for him. I hope that the Committee is mindful of its responsibilities. It will want to know how the money will be spent.

In Harrow, an overarching information technology scheme will embrace all health and social care, including primary care groups and the voluntary sector. Local agencies will use the new intranet to streamline information to support planning requirements across health and social care, in particular health improvement programmes and joint investment plans. All those schemes reflect key e-Government objectives of making better use of information and ensuring that Government services are more accessible to the public.

Some of the schemes that we have supported build on innovative work developed locally by social services and NHS partners. NHS Direct is already up and running in most of England and Wales, and that service is being built on in Hampshire, with the establishment of Social Services Direct. It will offer a 24-hour social care inquiry, information, referral and response service. It will also be linked with NHS Direct to transfer calls and send information between the two organisations. The invest to save budget funding will also allow social services to test the feasibility of extending electronic links to other public bodies, in particular to the police.

In Kirklees, mental health services are being integrated across health and social care, and invest to save funding is being used to extend information links across those services. Over the years, report after report on the treatment of individual patients by mental health services has found that statutory agencies are failing to communicate the right information quickly to the right part of the service. That scheme will link NHS Direct and the out-of-hours GP service to the existing integrated health and social care mental health database to ensure that the system has comprehensive information on any patient, wherever they choose to access services.

Another catalyst for change has been the new flexibilities introduced in last year's Health Act. We said that we would give the NHS and social services new tools to make joint working the norm rather than the exception. We have backed that up with new money for the NHS and social care. Both mental health and learning disabilities feature in the scheme in Barnsley, where single personal records and a common information system will support integrated care pathways across health and social care. Invest to save funding is being used on project management and network upgrades to support service integration in respect of mental health, learning disability, older people, disability and children. The project aims to save money by integrating local information systems, but it also takes into account the impact on organisations, staff and users of new technology. The reference group for this project is composed of users, their families and those who provide the service, from both the voluntary and the statutory sector. The Government need to think more about the impact of technology on working lives and the user experience, and I expect the Barnsley approach to produce useful messages from which we can all learn.

 
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