Report looks at local support for vulnerable groups

03 November 2009

The ring fence money provided by central government for the local delivery of housing-related support and other services offered to vulnerable groups should not be reinstated, but services must be protected, says the Communities and Local Government Committee in its report on the Supporting People programme

Committee Chair, Dr Phyllis Starkey, launching the report said:

"The flexibility provided by the removal of the ring fence is clearly well worth having. Fears about the potential for loss of funding must be countered by maintaining high levels of transparency, rigorous service delivery and strong monitoring frameworks so that the Supporting People programme continues to deliver vital services to some of the most vulnerable in our society.

"Central government must show how much money it provides for Supporting People within each local area-based grant. Local authorities should be free to manage their own budgets, but must then be prepared to justify any decisions to redirect Supporting People funds to deliver other locally targeted services"

The Committee’s inquiry stemmed from widespread concern that the government’s decision to remove the ring fence around the Supporting People budget in April 2009 could result in substantial loss of funding for SP services over time.

The report concludes:

  • The Supporting People programme has achieved a great deal— delivering savings to the Exchequer of £3.4 billion for a £1.6 billion annual investment that is spent well supporting the needs of the most vulnerable and socially excluded members of society. Any avoidable threats to the programme’s continued success must be averted.
  • Pressure on local authority budgets in the face of a recession poses a real threat to the future of some existing Supporting People services and heightens the risk that current unmet need will not be addressed.
  • Central government must take care to ensure monies intended for Supporting People are not misused in local authorities where this programme is either misunderstood or not seen as a mainstream part of service delivery. Delivery of Supporting People does not, however, need to be placed a statutory footing, and local authorities should not be compelled to adopt mandatory performance indicators for housing-related support.
  • The standard of service delivery varies widely across the country. However, the quality of partnership working in some local authority areas under the regime—which has led to the creation of many innovative and person-centred services—is excellent and should be used to provide a blueprint for future partnership working in other areas of local service delivery.
  • The Government has made good overall progress against its commitments in the 2007 Supporting People Strategy but there should be an accelerated movement towards the needs-based allocation of funding under the SP Distribution Formula and more rapid progress towards certain objectives.
  • In particular, further focused effort is required to curb the burden imposed by the competitive tendering regime for SP services on small third sector organisations. Such organisations—which have a wealth of knowledge and expertise about the needs of vulnerable people—must not be overlooked or squeezed out by tendering arrangements that focus on cost of service delivery at the expense of service quality.
  • Against a background of tightening budgets and the challenges of multi-agency service delivery, the mechanisms employed to ensure service-user involvement in decision-making must be preserved and their effectiveness should be examined during inspections.
  • The future of accommodation-based services for older people is a major concern. The separation of funding for accommodation and support under the Supporting People regime has created serious issues for providers and users of sheltered housing, and there is a strong case for reconsidering sheltered housing’s place in the Supporting People programme. The Government should develop a more coherent strategy for the provision and funding of housing and support services for older people, making clear the role of sheltered housing.
  • The department should redouble its efforts to encourage local authorities to identify need and plan services together for those groups of service users who are ‘transient’ and may rely on services being joined up across local authority boundaries. (To that end, housing-related support should be specifically referenced in new guidance for joint strategic needs assessments of health and social care).
  • Key management tools that have been developed to help deliver the SP programme—notably the Quality Assessment and Outcomes Frameworks—must be retained. The Outcomes Framework in particular, which shows how service users’ needs are met, provides a much-needed evidence base for which interventions best meet service user needs that will be of considerable value in the long term for the provision of all housing-related support.

Image: iStockphoto

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