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Contracting Out (Local Authorities Social Services Functions) (England) Order 2011

Volume 728: debated on Monday 13 June 2011

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft order laid before the House on 10 May be approved.

Relevant document: 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the purpose of the order is to allow local authorities taking part in two pilot programmes to contract to outside organisations certain adult social services functions conferred on them by a variety of legal provisions. The pilots are, first, adult social work practices pilots and, secondly, right to control pilots. In short, the SWP pilots will test various models of social worker-led organisations undertaking adult social care functions for which local authorities are currently statutorily responsible. The right to control pilots will test the exercise of disabled people’s right to manage the state support they receive to live their daily lives. I will explain each pilot programme in greater detail as I go along.

The Government’s vision for adult social care set out a new agenda for adult social care based on a shift of power away from the state to the citizen by putting people, personalised services and outcomes centre stage. We are committed to the devolution of decision-making close to those who are responsible for the service delivered and, wherever possible, into the hands of those who are the service beneficiaries. This is an integral component of our wider personalisation agenda. We also want to ensure that individuals, carers, families and communities work together with local services, balancing family and community action with state support. Again, this is an integral component of our big society vision.

Since 2008, the Department for Education has funded SWP pilots to deliver services for children and young people in care. The pilots have seen the creation of independent, social worker-led organisations, including social workers moving out of public sector employment to form their own employee-owned social enterprises. The pilots also co-ordinate and monitor services provided to the children and young people in the SWP. They are independent of the local authority, but work closely with it and in partnership with other providers. The local authority pays the SWPs for the services provided.

Last November, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced that the Government wanted to test this concept in the adult social care sector, with pilots running for two years starting this summer. The emerging evidence from the Department for Education pilots strongly suggests that both clients and staff will benefit from service delivery by SWPs. That is why we are giving local authorities this opportunity to test the potential benefits of the SWP model and adopt a completely innovative approach to delivering services for adults and their carers.

We want not only to improve the experiences and outcomes for people in vulnerable circumstances, but also to empower social workers to do their jobs effectively, and we want to reduce the unnecessary bureaucracy that so often gets in the way. The programme will bring people who need health and care support closer to those who provide the services they need by reducing bureaucracy and encouraging innovation and personalised services. It will also give social workers the freedom to run their own organisations in the way they want within the constraints of their contract with the local authority. Evidence shows that staff working in employee-owned organisations have greater job satisfaction, leading to lower staff turnover and capacity for greater innovation.

SWPs will discharge the functions of the local authority in providing adult social care services and be responsible for providing the support to people receiving services from the SWP to achieve better experiences and better outcomes. They will also be responsible for undertaking delegated social work functions, managing day-to-day support, co-ordinating and monitoring service provision, and of course this will differ between the pilot sites. The local authority will keep its strategic and corporate responsibilities and will manage the contract and partnership with the SWP. I will speak a little later about concerns that noble Lords may have about possible risks associated with the delegation of these functions.

The SWP pilots will give local authorities a unique opportunity to test the potential benefits of various models and to adopt innovative approaches to delivering services for adults and their carers. The Department of Health is providing funding in the region of £1 million to help the pilots get up and running and to provide initial support. The pilots are an opportunity to test different models to see what works well and what does not, and they will be evaluated fully both during and at the end of the two-year period.

Primary legislation specifically allowed councils taking part in the Department for Education pilot programme to delegate their statutory functions in relation to looked-after children to SWPs. There is no equivalent legislation to allow the delegation of adult social care functions. However, the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 allows the making of orders allowing such delegation, and that is why we are seeking to introduce the order under discussion today.

The right to control, introduced by the previous Government in the Welfare Reform Act 2009, gives disabled adults greater choice and control over certain state support they receive to go about their daily lives. The right is based on the principle that disabled people are the experts in their own lives and they can decide what support they need and how it should be delivered. It is essentially a variant relating solely to disabled people within the general concept of personalisation.

The right is being tested in eight local authorities in England. These trailblazers, funded by the Office for Disability Issues, will evaluate the best ways to implement the right and will be used to inform decisions about whether and how to roll out the right more widely. Disabled people accessing the right to control will have a right to be told how much money they are eligible to receive for their support. They will be able to choose, in consultation with the public authority delivering the funding stream, how that money is used to meet agreed outcomes. They will be able to choose different degrees of control over their support.

One local authority has asked us whether it could test the delegation of its statutory duty to review social care assessments to third parties such as user-led organisations. As part of their vision for adult social care, the Government have stated their expectation that by April 2013 councils will provide personal budgets for everyone eligible for ongoing social care, preferably as a direct payment. Evidence shows that people who have their circumstances reviewed by fellow service users under appropriate supervision are far more likely to have their care and support needs met to their satisfaction and to request direct payment of their personal budgets to enable them to make their own support arrangements. We were therefore happy to agree to the request and the order allows delegation of the assessment functions under Section 47 of the NHS and Community Care Act 1990, which is also available to the councils piloting SWPs.

I said earlier that I would address concerns that noble Lords might have about the powers provided by the order. I fully understand how the delegation of council functions to outside bodies might raise concerns about potential risks to service users. It is always a balancing act when people are given the freedom to try new ways of doing things with the aim of improving other people’s quality of life. On the one hand, might service users be exposed to unnecessary risks, while on the other, might they not benefit from being able to make more decisions for themselves? Functions in social work practices have to be carried out by or under the supervision of a registered social worker or, in the case of right to control, by a person with requisite competencies or qualifications. I should like to assure noble Lords that accountability for the care delivered to vulnerable people will not change. Each local authority will retain overall responsibility for the services delivered by the SWP it contracts to, just as it does in relation to other local services. In this respect, the contract between the local authority and the SWP will be critical. We expect councils to monitor closely the outcomes of the practices, identifying issues early and providing support, while allowing them the scope to innovate and make decisions about the best packages of support and services for their population. Any potential risks will, of course, be reflected in any recommendations coming out of the separate evaluations.

In conclusion, we see this order as an important marker of progress in the developing world of personalisation. On the back of persistent requests from within the sector for greater freedom of choice and control for both staff and service users, this order has the support of councils and their representatives, as well as service users and their carers. It will enable the release of new partnerships and new ways of working to the benefit of individuals and their communities as a whole. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order and explaining its purpose so well. It is one of those orders the name of which belies its importance and its comprehensibility. As the Minister explained, the order is similar to one concerning children’s services from some years ago. Its purpose is designed to pilot flexibility at local authority level and test innovative approaches to delivering services to adults and their carers. As it is designed to foster new ways of delivering care on the ground with the caring and cared-for—in other words, user-led services—we would all agree that it is a good thing.

The meat of the order is in Article 3(2). Most of my questions centre on the practical details of delivery and how to ensure the safety of the adults concerned. The Minister has addressed some of those already. The noble Earl said that one local authority in the pilot involved the right to control. I wonder which authority that is, which seven authorities have been chosen and how they were chosen.

I am interested in the right to control. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain in more detail what the interface between the trailblazers funded by the ODI is. What benefits could there be to using those powers with the right to control, which is being explained in this order? I am not quite clear on how those would work. How will continued support and resources for co-production with disabled service users—an essential component of successful delivery of right to control—be maintained if there is a marriage between the two regimes?

How will the local authority authorise the third party to undertake social services functions? What criteria will they use, given that no guidance is to be made available with this order? Perhaps the Minister could paint us a picture or give us an example of that.

I should be grateful if the Minister could untangle the approved provider and independent mental capacity advocate by explaining who will be doing what under this proposed regime. Given that social work is regulated, as the Minister explained, can he confirm that that same framework will apply under this order? Can he confirm who—I assume it will be the local authority—will approve the individuals, businesses, charities and social enterprises that participate to ensure that their practice is of the highest standard when they deal with this most vulnerable sector of the community? If things are not working out properly for the person in receipt of care under this order, who would they go to and how would they do that?

Finally, if the person who is undertaking the functions under this order is not a registered social worker, what check will there be on their qualifications to carry out the functions required? I should be grateful if the Minister could explain who is undertaking the monitoring and reporting, and how long it will take. What does the Minister envisage the next steps would then be?

My Lords, in 51 years in active politics, I have never before spoken in support of the SWP. This, however, is a different SWP, and I am happy to support the initiative, which, as the Minister has rightly said, follows an equivalent process in children’s services. However, there are one or two questions that I should like to ask.

First, I assume that it will be open to council health and adult services scrutiny committees, if they wish, to look into the operation of the scheme in their individual authorities. That would be a helpful addition to the process. Secondly, it would also be helpful to be assured that the terms and conditions of those to whom this work will be contracted in adult care services will be comparable to those in current adult services departments. One does not want to see—as has sometimes happened, for example, in my own authority—the contracting out of domiciliary care services even to voluntary sector organisations that pay barely above the minimum wage. That is compared to somewhat above it, although not vastly above it, at the moment.

Thirdly, in respect of the possible formation of new bodies by local authority employees, a matter on which the Minister touched, there might be problems with the European Union procurement and competition laws. We have touched on this from time to time, and will no doubt revert to it in the event that a Bill dealing with the National Health Service comes to this House in due course. I assume that, for the purposes of these experiments, it is perhaps unnecessary to worry too much about that, but is it a factor that might have to be taken into account later?

In relation to the right to control, again, this is a sensible way to proceed. This is a matter not only for the individual and the organisation that helps him but also, I suspect, for the local authority in helping people navigate the various providers and alternative courses of action. For that matter, they must also ensure that sufficient information is available to provide value for money for the applicant. Would it be intended to extend this experiment to provision by the health service for disabled people, either from GP practices or trusts? Presumably at the moment some functions are provided by such statutory organisations as well as by the local authority. If it is not intended to bring that in at this stage, is it something that could be looked at, maybe within the trailblazers working with their local health partners, to see whether this right to control might be extended?

I am reassured to hear that monitoring will take place for individual projects but the document says:

“The Trailblazers … will evaluate the best ways to implement the Right”.

I am not sure whether that means a collective view will be taken by the trailblazers or individual trailblazers will report. In either event, who will decide, and with whom, how matters are taken forward? For example, is it the department’s intention to consult patient groups or groups representing the people affected? I assume that that is probably the case but it would be as well to have it spelt out.

Finally, we should bear in mind what currently worries so many people about Southern Cross and reflect on the difficulties that arose as a result of local authorities effectively being driven out of the provision of residential care for the elderly in the 1980s and 1990s when they became heavily dependent on largely private sector providers. I emphasise the need, whatever happens, in a mixed economy of care, which most of us support, for a local authority role to remain in provision. It is worrying that there is now little direct provision of residential care by local authorities. That leaves not just the system but, of more concern, the individuals who are in care and being looked after vulnerable to the pressures of the market. I am sure that the Minister would not wish to see problems of that kind arising so it would be helpful to be given encouragement that local authorities, in conjunction with other providers, will be able to remain on the field, as it were. As I understand it, at the moment it is not possible for people to use direct payments to procure services from their local authority. Perhaps that could be looked at in the context of these experiments as matters go forward.

My Lords, these Benches are happy to support this pilot. However, I wish to ask my noble friend one or two questions. First, will the resources currently spent by local authorities in assessing social care needs and arranging care be passed on in their entirety to the organisations to which this duty is being contracted out? If so, for how long will this contractual arrangement last? Who is conducting the independent review of the pilots and will the findings be made available to the House?

My Lords, I wish to pursue a matter that has already been discussed and emphasise a couple of concerns that have been raised, which I share. My noble friend referred to the treatment offered by a private consortium being threatened by the financial situation, as has just occurred. If we allow the contracting out to occur—I do not disagree with that—how can we ensure that that does not happen and that the treatment is safeguarded? A couple of noble Lords have asked how the assessment and monitoring will take place. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, it seems that the trailblazers will also monitor the provision. That might be a bit dubious as their judgment will obviously be biased by their experiences. My noble friend Lady Thornton asked who these trailblazing local authorities are. I should be interested to know that, too.

My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her broad welcome of the order. A great number of questions have been asked. I shall probably not be able to answer them all but I shall be happy to write to noble Lords with the detailed answers. However, I will attempt to cover as much ground as I can.

The right to control trailblazer that has requested this facility is Essex County Council. The social work practice sites are Birmingham City Council, the London Borough of Lambeth, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, North East Lincolnshire Care Trust, Shropshire County Council, Suffolk County Council and Surrey County Council.

I was asked how the SWP pilots would be put in place. The local authority will support the set-up of the SWP and the transition of people to the SWP. Once in place, the SWP will use its income under the contract with the local authority to provide services and improve the experience and outcomes of people in the SWP. As I said, the local authority will then manage the contract, monitor performance and manage the relationship as a whole. The local authority will review the contract with the SWP periodically to set new outcome targets and adjust payments. The Department of Health would expect these reviews to occur annually. In answer to my noble friend Lord Lee as to who will conduct the eventual evaluation, the workforce unit at King’s College, London, will do that. The final report will be an independent evaluation and will be published after the two-year period.

Although the local authority will remain liable for the performance of functions undertaken by the SWP, the authority will be able to sue for any breach of contract. It will work closely with the local authority and each local authority should decide what decisions it wishes the SWP to refer to it for agreement, so everything hinges on the contract. How will the outcomes of the SWP be managed? The local authority needs to maintain a close relationship with the SWP, as I have said, but it also needs to allow the SWP scope to innovate and make decisions about the best packages of support and services for the people involved—the service users—and how to provide these, so there is a delicate balance to be struck here. The department would expect the local authority to monitor outcomes, identify issues early and provide support, while allowing the SWP sufficient autonomy to decide how best to meet the needs of the people with whom it works.

The transfer process will be managed between each local authority and SWP. Where transfers take place, it is for the local authority and SWP to agree as part of their contract clear and transparent criteria for deciding who should transfer. It would be for local authorities to decide where social workers could be most effectively deployed. Ideally, SWPs will provide out-of-hours support directly to ensure continuity of services, but if the SWP is small, and particularly while it is getting started, it could choose to purchase out-of-hours support from the local authority.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked how these contracts will operate if there is no guidance. I hope that what I have already said about the importance of the contract has answered that. The contract that each local authority has with an SWP will specify the scope and feasibility of operation of each SWP.

My noble friend Lord Lee asked whether the terms and conditions being contracted out are comparable to current conditions. That would depend on the individual SWP and the individual local authority. There will be flexibility here. We are encouraging diversity so that we can find out from different models what works best.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked how the SWP would link with the approved provider for independent mental capacity advocates. The SWP would have access to whatever independent mental capacity advocate services exist locally. I think that there will be no bar to that. She also referred to the very important issue of safeguarding and how that would be ensured. Any body that is carrying out regulated activities in adult social care must be registered with the CQC. We are working with the seven councils to establish which sites are carrying out regulated activities. It is likely that most will need to be registered with the CQC, but the pilots vary greatly. They may therefore be subject to different registration requirements. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of councils to ensure that SWPs, if applicable, are registered individually with the CQC. Organisations registered with the CQC are required by regulations to carry out CRB checks on staff who have contact with patients or service users. Keeping patients and service users safe involves providing training, regular supervision and development and feedback from patients, service users and relatives. It will be for the councils and the SWPs to ensure that CRB checks are carried out as appropriate. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked whether the overview and scrutiny committees would have a role here. I see every reason why they should take an interest in what is happening. No doubt the message will go out that they should be encouraged to pay particular attention to these pilots.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wall, asked how we can ensure that SWPs do not go down the same path as providers such as Southern Cross. We do not, of course, yet know the final models of the SWP pilots and whether there is likely to be much, if any, private sector involvement. Local authorities can decide what they put in their contracts with the SWP pilots to ensure that those risks are mitigated.

Disabled people taking part in the right to control trailblazers will have a legal right to be told how much support they are eligible to receive, and to decide and agree with the public body the outcomes they want to achieve, based on the objectives of the funding streams they access. They will have a right to choice and control over the support they receive, and be able to choose how they receive the support.

Some aspects of the right to control process, such as the extent to which administrative processes are aligned, will be subject to some flexibility and may be different in each trailblazer. However, the broad framework of how the right to control will be tested is already agreed. Disabled people accessing the right to control will be told how much money they are eligible to receive for their support. They will be able to choose, in consultation with the public authority delivering the funding stream, how that money is used to meet agreed outcomes. I should say for the information of noble Lords that the seven trailblazing local authorities are Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Sheffield City Council, Essex County Council, Greater Manchester, Leicester City Council, the London Borough of Barnet, the London Borough of Newham and Surrey County Council.

I was asked whether the trailblazers will be consulting with service users. The answer is yes—the evaluation will include consultation with service users.

A number of other issues were raised in the debate and I shall cover just one before I conclude. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked whether direct payments were prohibited from buying council services in this context. There are no plans to change current arrangements and, indeed, the Law Commission, in its recent report on social care, did not recommend a change in this respect.

Once again, I am grateful to noble Lords for their pertinent questions and comments. As I mentioned at the beginning, I shall endeavour to respond to those questions that I have not covered in my reply.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.