The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published a consultation paper, "Home Improvement Agencies—Development and Reform", jointly with the Department of Health, last September. The paper set out proposals for reforming the Home Improvement Agency (HIA) sector in order to equip it for future challenges.The Supporting People programme, through which the sector will receive a substantial proportion of its funding from 2003–04, will bring new responsibilities and ways of working. In addition, there is a need to make HIA services available more widely if the sector's potential to make significant contributions to the delivery of health and regeneration objectives is to be realised. The Government's aim in publishing the consultation paper was to invite views on the best way of improving the capacity of the sector to meet these challenges.The paper sought endorsement of the Government's view that the sector should settle local commissioning models and structures during 2003–04, and work towards national coverage by the end of 2004–05. Recognising that additional resources would be needed in order to support the development and reform agenda, I announced last October that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would be providing an additional £5.2 million over the next three years to support HIAs' running costs, and that the Department of Health would be providing £9.5 million over the same period, earmarked for agencies, so that they can become key players in the provision of services to older people on discharge from hospital.In parallel with the consultation exercise, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister appointed Foundations, the national co-ordinating body for home improvement agencies, to investigate and recommend optimum structures for the sector, and also to recommend optimum commissioning models for HIA services within the Supporting People arrangements. Foundations has recommended that the goal in restructuring should be a network of area-resourced HIAs based upon the territories of the Supporting People commissioning bodies, combining a central management function and local delivery points. Foundations has also made a number of recommendations designed to secure the role of HIAs within the decision-making procedures of the commissioning bodies.The majority of consultation responses supported the Government's overall approach to the future of the sector. Of those who expressed a view on the Government's proposed timetable for restructuring and expanding geographical coverage, about 80 per cent. were supportive. On the future of the national coordinating body, 88 per cent. of those who expressed a view believed that the Government should continue to fund such a body after the expiry of the current contract with Foundations on 31 March 2004.
The Government are grateful for the consultation responses. We note the view of a number of respondents that full national coverage of HIA services may not be achievable, and we recognise that the provision of such services is a matter for local decision in the light of need and other factors. Nonetheless, we believe that there is considerable scope to expand the sector's current geographical coverage with the co-operation of local authorities and other agencies.
In accordance with EU competition rules and Government procurement policy, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will shortly begin the tendering process for a new contract with a national co-ordinating body to be funded centrally.
We accept the recommendations of Foundations on future structural and commissioning models, whilst recognising the value of existing centres of excellence and taking care to avoid losing the essentially local character of the services that agencies provide We will fund a Structure Support Team to work with agencies and their partners to agree and implement organisational changes where these are shown to be necessary. This team will be established by Foundations, in collaboration with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, under an extension of its existing contract. HIAs and their partners will be notified when the Team is ready to start work.