Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Tunstall Group (LAG 45)


  1.1  The Tunstall Group is the UK's leading provider of social alarms and associated control centres, offering protection and assistance to older and vulnerable people. Our systems allow both carers and those at risk to maintain their independence, secure in the knowledge that help is immediately available.

  1.2  Tunstall designs, manufactures, installs and services communication equipment for people living at home, in sheltered accommodation, residential and nursing homes. We currently provide equipment to over 700 local authorities and housing associations in the UK and many more worldwide. We are also leading the development of new technologies, such as mobile social alarms, telemedicine and local information networks to help people access services in their local communities.

  1.3  Tunstall's business is based upon close links with local government. Our social alarm systems offer protection to older and vulnerable people including those at risk from crimes such as domestic violence, racial harassment and other victimisation. Changes in the political structure, management, financing and service evaluation of local government have a deep impact upon our business. The transparent and accountable administration of local government is crucial to our business and thus the effective provision of vital services for vulnerable people.

2.  Introduction

  2.1  Tunstall welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Select Committee's inquiry into Local Government Governance. We applaud the decision by the Committee to hold an inquiry on this issue as recent legislation has introduced many changes at local authority level. There are also proposals in the pipeline that will bring additional changes to local authorities. It is important that the impact of these on political management structures is effectively assessed by Parliament.

  2.2  Tunstall has broadly welcomed the Government's local government reforms and its overall objective of improving the machinery of local government and the services provided for local communities. However, we believe these changes have not been without difficulties. In fact, we remain concerned that, together, these changes have introduced a level of uncertainty at local authority level that has stalled decision-making and eventual service provision.

3.  Main Points

  3.1  The Local Government Act 2000—introducing a system of elected mayors or cabinet systems—is among several reforms to local government that has had an impact on the efficiency, transparency and accountability of the workings of local government. Tunstall believes the Select Committee's examination of the implications of Part II of the Local Government Act 2000 should be put within the context of the significant changes already imposed on local authorities.

  3.2  For example, the Government has introduced:

    —  Local Government Act 1999—replaced Compulsory Competitive Tendering with Best Value with effect from 1 April 2000. Best Value requires all local authorities to monitor and review the delivery of all services, including housing, social services and other care services, to measure their performance against benchmark standards of quality. This policy is in its infancy and there is evidence that local authorities are struggling to make purchasing decisions until they are confident they will achieve the necessary performance standards and thus demonstrate Best Value.

    —  Health Act 1999—introduced a number of structural changes to the future provision of health and social services. The legislation set up a new Primary Care Trust system to oversee the provision of local health and social care services, such as care for older people. This reform is ongoing and the working arrangements between health and social services are still evolving. The Government's NHS Plan—and more recently the Health and Social Care Modernisation Bill—will seek to build upon these foundations. In its evidence to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, the British Medical Association (BMA) expressed concern at the "threatening pace of change" and the late delivery of guidance on the setting up of Primary Care Trusts.[24]

    —  Funding—one of the biggest funding changes at local level has been the replacement of Housing Benefit-funded housing support services with a new Supporting People scheme. This new grant will come into effect in April 2003. In the interim, a transitional housing benefit scheme is in place. Amongst local authorities there is considerable concern as to the future funding for community alarm services. The Government has yet to determine whether funding will be met through Supporting People or the Housing Revenue Account and we would urge the Select Committee to recommend the Government make a decision on this as soon as possible in order to preserve effective service delivery.

  3.3  In addition to this, there has been competition for funds at local authority level. Despite the July 2000 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announcement of significant additional money for health and social services, this does not come into effect until April 2001. Until then, winter pressures will exacerbate demand on services. Capital expenditure is likely to be secondary to the need of meeting existing demands. The pressures on funding make the need for effective decision-making at council level even more imperative.

  3.4  These changes come against a backdrop of proposals to alter the method of allocating funds to local authorities. The Local Government Finance Green Paper seeks to introduce greater stability and predictability to the allocation of central government money and the raising of capital expenditure. Whilst Tunstall welcomes this reform, it is yet another change to which councils may be slow to adapt. We urge the Select Committee to recommend that the impact of these new changes be thoroughly examined and appropriate guidance—and funding—provided to allow local authorities to ensure a seamless delivery of services.

4.  Implications for Local Services

  4.1  These changes have had a cumulative impact upon local authorities. We believe the myriad changes have stalled the local authority decision-making process which, from our experience, now threatens the provision of social alarm and other care services. This presents a very real danger that many local residents who need these services will be denied the necessary equipment.

  4.2  We are already witnessing many local authorities, constrained by a spending "paralysis", being forced to withdraw free social alarm provision from some of their residents. This places many older and vulnerable people in a dilemma: meet the costs themselves by cutting back in some other area of household expenditure or decline the service on which they depend.

  4.3  The introduction of new forms of political management is exacerbating these difficulties. Until local authorities establish these structures with the decision making processes agreed and working effectively, major purchasing decisions are invariably placed "on hold" with a consequent potential for a decline in the provision of key services. The feedback we are getting from our local authority customers is that this is exactly the scenario that local authority managers are currently facing.

5.  Main Recommendations and Conclusion

  5.1  Tunstall broadly welcomes the Government's recent reforms for local government. We hope these will improve overall service delivery in the long-term. However, we remain concerned about the impact of all recent legal government legislation. The Select Committee should examine the impact of the recent Local Government Act 2000 in the context of these wider changes.

  5.2  Tunstall calls on the Select Committee to urge the Government to provide clear guidance well in advance of changes to local government service provision, particularly dramatic changes such as the introduction of Primary Care Trusts and Best Value. Although the changes are subject to consultation, the provision of guidance and funding it is vital if a seamless transition is to be assured.

  5.3  One specific area in which the Committee could assist is by urging the Government to make sure service provision is maintained whilst these changes are introduced. The current arrangements have produced an inertia which is undermining service provision and, in the case of social alarms, threatening their continued funding.

February 2001

24   Oral Evidence by Dr John Chisholm, Chairman of the GP Committee at the BMA, to the House of Commons Health Select Committee: 12 November 1998. Back

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