Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments Twenty-Ninth Report


Further information from the Department of Health

Q1:What is the nature of the delay and what consequences it might have for the public?

A1:First, it is important to clarify that the Amendment Regulations do not extend the implementation date for LINks - implementation of LINks commenced from 1 April 2008. Under the legislation (the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act, 2007 - "the Act"), which came into force on 1 April 2008, local authorities with social services responsibilities have been under a duty to make arrangements for LINks activities, as set out in s221(2) of the Act, to take place in their area.

The Act placed local authorities under a duty to make arrangements with an independent organisation - 'or host' - to facilitate LINk activities from 1 April 2008. The Act also placed local authorities under a duty to make transitional arrangements for a period specified in regulations. The Local Involvement Networks Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/528) specified a date of 30 September 2008.

This meant that where, at 1 April 2008 a local authority had not placed such a contract with a host allowing LINk activities to take place, that local authority was under a transitional duty to ensure activities could take place by other means. In most cases this was done either by the local authority acting as a host organisation or by the appointment of a temporary, or transitional, host until the procurement of a permanent host was finalised.

The purpose and effect of SI 2008/1877 is to extend that six month period to 31 December 2008, allowing local authorities an additional three months to enter into contractual arrangements with a host, while remaining under the temporary duty.

The transitional duty was placed on local authorities to ensure that there would be no adverse consequences for communities of local authorities which did not have host contracts in place on 1 April 2008.

Q2:How many local authorities have yet to contract with the Host (both numbers and as a percentage of the whole)

A2:28 local authorities (18.6%) have yet to contract with a host.

Q3:How robust is the 31 December timetable?

A3: Local authorities are not under any duty to report their progress to the Department of Health, or any other organisation. However, based on the information we are gathering from our delivery partners - the Care Services Improvement Partnership (CSIP) and the NHS Centre for Involvement (NCI), as well as from the Local Government Association - we are confident that all local authorities should be able to finalise their procurements by the end of December.

We have written to local authorities advising them of the revised date for the end of the transitional period, reminding them of their duty to ensure LINks activities can be carried on during this time, and reiterating the help and support that is available to them in order to get their LINk up and running successfully.

We also made it clear that there is no intention to seek a further extension to the period of transition and local authorities that have not contracted with a host organisation by the end of December will be in breach of their statutory duty.

Q4: Why did the initial projections of the Department that it could all be done within 6 months prove incorrect, are there lessons for timetabling other projects?

A4: A period of 6 months after 1 April 2008 was thought to be sufficient to allow local authorities to finalise their host arrangements. However, it was recognised in debate during the passage of the Bill that this timescale may need revisiting because of the complex nature of such procurements, and of some late amendments to the legislation. The period of transition was, therefore, deliberately set out in secondary rather than primary legislation to facilitate a more straightforward means by which to amend the end date, should it prove necessary.

It is important to clarify that the Department did not project that everything could be done within 6 months. Local authorities were first notified of the proposals for the introduction of local involvement networks in July 2006, as part of the Department's consultation A stronger local voice: A framework for creating a stronger local voice in the development of health and social services.

The Department issued two guidance documents in August 2007 designed to help local authorities get ready for LINks; one of these documents contained a 'model contract' for local authorities to use as a reference. This guidance accompanied a one-off payment of £10,000 to each local authority to assist them in the procurement process.

Since that time, LINk leads - who are based in local authorities - and, more recently, host organisations, have received monthly bulletins updating them on LINks policy developments and giving them the practical information they need to set up a successful LINk. Further, as part of the programme of support the Department is offering for LINks, expert advisors from the NCI have visited local authorities to provide help and advice and good practice has been shared more widely at workshops and seminars. The NCI have also produced a compendium of guidance to help support LINks implementation.

Local authorities, therefore, have known about the advent of LINks for over 2 years, and have had practical help and support since August 2007.

However, as indicated earlier, during the passage of the Bill some concern was expressed that - despite the early notification, and the availability of guidance, support and funding - some local authorities would not be in a position to contract a host by 1 April 2008. The transitional duty was therefore put in place. At the time of the debates, an additional 6 months was agreed to be a reasonable length of time. It was acknowledged, however, that a further period may be necessary, and this has turned out to be the case.

October 2008

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