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Third Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Thursday 3 July 2003
[Mr. Derek Conway in the Chair]
Draft Community Care Plans
(Disapplication) (England) Order 2003
The Chairman: If any hon. Member wishes to remove their jacket, that is perfectly in order. Any references to mine will be out of order.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Community Care Plans (Disapplication) (England) Order 2003.
Mr. Conway, I will make no comments about your jacket—I have more extravagant ones at home.
The order is designed to disapply the requirement for councils in England to produce a community care plan under section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. Such plans cover community care services for all client groups. Their primary purpose has been to ensure that councils have a robust planning process to manage their community care responsibilities, and that they work with health bodies and housing and other agencies. The plans have proved a useful means of conveying important public messages about the direction of community care policy.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): The Minister said that the order is made under section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. Why is it subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and not the negative procedure?
Dr. Ladyman: I shall reflect on that question. I am sure that I will be able to tell the hon. Gentleman the answer later in our deliberations.
In 2001, the Government commissioned a review of the plans that they required councils with social services responsibilities to submit for scrutiny. One objective of the review was to make recommendations on how to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication of effort for local authorities, while still satisfying Ministers that national policy priorities continued successfully to be delivered on locally.
At that time, it was widely accepted across local and central Government that current planning requirements constituted a heavy burden on local authorities. Social services alone were contributing to at least 40 plans each year, equating to more than 6,000 plans nationwide. Furthermore, the plans in their various forms did not constitute a coherent whole from a local perspective. A recurring theme was that the process failed to make the national priorities clear, with each planning requirement concentrating on its own set of priorities. That meant not only that it was unclear locally what the priorities were, but that councils were straitjacketed in their approach to services.
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The central objectives in requiring plans to be submitted were to increase the chances of national policy objectives being successfully achieved locally, and to provide information for assessing a council's performance. For example, community care plans were originally introduced because integrated community care packages were not being seen on a sufficient scale and the whole process needed much greater impetus. The introduction of community care plans helped to quicken the pace and achieve the required integration.
The Department of Health accepted the report's suggestion that a new framework was needed to assure Ministers that national policy priorities were being successfully delivered on. Sweeping cuts could then be made in the number of plans being required from local authorities by the Department, with the main objective of ensuring that effective local planning adequately took the national health and social care priorities into account and, crucially, delivered better services.
Mr. Burns: Will the Minister give way?
Dr. Ladyman: I want to make some progress, then I will be happy to give way.
Mr. Burns: My question is on that point. For clarification, could the Minister say what the priorities are?
Dr. Ladyman: I will come to that later in my remarks.
Since that time, more integrated and streamlined planning processes have been introduced in local authorities and NHS bodies. A recently introduced planning framework for health and social services means that most current planning requirements will be replaced by a single joint three-year local delivery plan. The new planning system has been designed with fewer national requirements and national targets.
Last year the number of plans being submitted to the Department of Health was reduced to nine. This year, the only plans required to be submitted relate to the teenage pregnancy local implementation support grant and the young people's substance misuse planning grant. Plans are essential in the first stages of improving services, but now that considerable progress has been made towards the Government's aim of getting public bodies and other agencies to work in partnership, the time has come for us to concentrate on delivery. Rather than chasing local authorities on matters of process, and wasting their valuable time in doing so, we want to free them up to deliver the outcomes that their communities, quite reasonably, expect to receive by way of improved, modern services.
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): Do we therefore take it as read that the Labour Government have been wasting local authorities' time over the past six years by demanding those planning processes?
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I was about to say. The planning processes that are currently under way, and which have made this particular planning process superfluous, were introduced only recently.
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That brings me back to the subject of the debate. Section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 still requires councils to produce community care plans. However, we no longer need to be prescriptive about individual plans, because the elements included in the plans have been brought into the new joint planning framework, and councils do not need to submit detailed plans to central Government. The objectives and process that were part of a community care plan are included in several current documents that contribute to the planning process, including national service frameworks and the community strategy.
In local strategic partnerships and local delivery plans, the need to implement the national service frameworks will be built into the requirement to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are represented. In addition, the Local Government Act 2000 places a duty on local authorities to prepare a community strategy to promote and improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. To provide a separate community care plan on top of those requirements would result in the duplication of effort and replication of information. In relation to the point made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), the 2000 Act led to such duplication and to the need for the order to be revoked.
The Department of Health recognised that separate community care plans were no longer necessary, and that their discontinuance could provide savings in staff time and publication costs for local authorities. It therefore embarked on a consultation process in August 2001 to seek views on removing the legal requirement to produce the plans. The consultation was sent to all chief executives of health authorities, all directors of social services, and selected voluntary groups.
More than 90 per cent. of respondents to the consultation were supportive of the proposal. The reasons given for supporting it included the failure of the community care plans, in many cases, to reflect user views; the view that community care plans were time-consuming and that much of the work was replicated within other planning documents; the view that partnership working had progressed and made the community care plans irrelevant; and the view that other options had already been found for meeting the needs of diverse groups. I shall quote a comment from one local authority, which illustrates the point well:
''We look forward to a bonfire of planning requirements that we hope will result from the recent Department of Health review. We and our partners recently discussed the whole planning issue and agree that structures and processes are out of step with the rapidly developing joint agenda between Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts.''
Another health authority chief executive echoed those sentiments, saying:
''The functions of a Community Care Plan are now largely fulfilled by other systems. It is positively unhelpful to continue with the separate requirement and I welcome the streamlining that your proposal would permit.''
I shall cite one further example before moving on—a comment made by a health authority in the north of England:
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''Community Care Plans have been expensive in both financial and staff time terms and, despite numerous efforts, have not really caught the public imagination or facilitated user involvement. It is to be hoped that, if we no longer have to produce them, resources will be available to explore more imaginative ways of informing . . . local people.''
Mr. Burns: Can the Minister confirm that the order applies only to England? If that is the case, can he explain the situation with regard to Wales, and why the Welsh Assembly was consulted and had concerns about the order and its impact?
Dr. Ladyman: I can confirm that the order extends only to England. I am not sure to what extent I could comment in detail on the views of the Welsh Assembly, since those views are beyond the scope of my competence and the constitution of the House.
Mr. Burns: Can I help the Minister?
Dr. Ladyman: No, I—
Mr. Burns: Can I help—
The Chairman: Order. The Minister is not giving way.
Dr. Ladyman: I am happy to relay to the hon. Gentleman what responses we received from the Welsh Assembly, but I cannot comment on them because they are not my views.