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Adult Social Care Contracts

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the use of an auction-style process by some local authorities to tender for adult social care contracts.

The new Care Act directs local authorities to put the well-being of people at the centre of all decisions about care and support. Commissioning high-quality social care is ultimately a matter for local authorities. We are aware of electronic marketplace systems that, together with professional judgments by authority staff, help to embody this well-being principle by prioritising quality above cost while achieving value for money.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for that thoughtful response. Does he agree that advertising a block of services in an impersonal way is entirely different from advertising a vulnerable individual, stripping them of their humanity and dignity? Would he be willing to take forward the point that he made about the legislation and examine whether these authorities are disregarding the duty placed on them by Parliament to carry out a proper assessment of need for each individual, to produce a care plan and to make sure that that care plan is related to the individual’s developing situation? Will he ask the Care Quality Commission to make unannounced inspections of these authorities to see whether they are complying with the law?

My Lords, I make it clear that the personal details of would-be service users should not be put in the public domain. The purpose of this system is to develop a tailored care plan that best meets the person’s needs and does not undermine their well-being. Where this has been done well, it has resulted in good-quality care while also, as I said, providing value for money for the taxpayer. We would not wish to make provision for spot checks of local authorities by the CQC but, where there is clear evidence that a local authority’s commissioning practices are leading to poor-quality care—which they should not be—the Secretary of State can order the Care Quality Commission to carry out a special review.

My Lords, the Minister will know that self-funders have been subsidising local authority places for decades. Have the Government measured what the impact of the increased cost on self-funders would be in the event that we were to go down the route suggested?

My Lords, whatever system is chosen for commissioning care in a local authority, there has to be a fair system for setting fees. We expect local authorities to comply with their legal duties to sustain a high-quality market of providers in their area, and that involves paying fair fees. That is a matter for local determination. It has to be because, in seeking an open market, as we do, we are also aware that local market conditions have to be taken into account.

My Lords, many service user-led organisations—for instance, the National Centre for Independent Living—provide a high quality of service. Does the Minister accept that in order to achieve high quality and high value, local authorities may have to pay a premium in the short term to achieve long-term cost-effectiveness? If he does, can he remind local authorities of this?

My Lords, the principle that the noble Baroness articulates is, I am sure, applicable in some areas. I hope that she will be reassured to know that the department has developed statutory guidance for the Care Act to support local authorities, including commissioning. The guidance to the Act directs local authorities to ensure that all packages of care and support that are arranged are good quality and do not undermine people’s well-being. Furthermore, the department will, with partners, be developing a set of commissioning standards which will help local authorities to improve their commissioning practices.

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us whether the Care Act effectively prevents the practice to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred?

No, my Lords, it does not, because we rely on local authorities to arrive at a fair system of charging that is fair to all. What we do wish to see, however, is greater transparency in these matters, and I think that the Care Act will lead to that.

My Lords, commissioning of social care is changing fundamentally, not least because of increased use of individual budgets and integration with health commissioning. Does the Minister agree that it is time for the CQC to do a thorough review of the commissioning skills and capacities of local authorities?

I think that that would be premature. As I have said, we are developing statutory guidance for local authorities, as well as commissioning standards. We have no evidence to date that the process to which the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has drawn attention is leading to perverse results. If there is such evidence, we would be interested to hear about it. But until we are aware that there is a problem, I think that the noble Baroness’s suggestion is not timely.

My Lords, I go back to my original question. Will self-funders be further subsidising local authority auctioned places?

My Lords, it is impossible to give generalisations. As I indicated, it will depend on what happens in a given local area. We know that it happens at the moment but, again, it is impossible for me to make a general statement about how much or how little it is happening across the country.