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Lack of BCF clarity suggests ill-conceived approach

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Reflections on the new better care fund planning requirements

More than a week after the better care fund planning requirements for 2017-19 were published, the clarity they were intended to provide remains elusive.

The wording of the document is unusually vague on important points of detail. It promises Care Quality Commission reviews of performance in areas with the worst outcomes across a range of specified metrics “with a view to supporting them to improve”. It then goes on to say that the government would be “considering” a review in November of 2018-19 allocations for poorly performing areas.

The general assertion that the withdrawn money would remain in local government for use on social care offers little assurance, while raising the illogical possibility that stronger performing areas could receive money removed from those that need the most support.

The evidence suggests neither the Department of Health nor the Department of Communities & Local Government consulted councils before attaching these new strings.

Clearly angered by this move, Izzi Seccombe (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, referred to the “sudden shift in focus, so late in the process” as “completely unacceptable”.

She also pointed out, tellingly, that the LGA logo was not placed alongside that of the DH and the DCLG on the document, as had been the case with BCF planning requirements in previous years.

Cllr Seccombe did address one important gap in the detail by saying the LGA had been “assured” that the potential withdrawals of money would only affect 10% of the funding.

However it remains unclear whether the 10% relates to individual council allocations or 10% of the overall £2bn. Moreover, LGC understands that the DCLG has told at least one local government organisation that it does not “recognise” the 10% figure, with talks ongoing with the DH.

LGC has sought clarification from the government on this point and a number of other details relating to the planning requirements, but has received no response.

Other questions remain over whether there would be variation in the amounts withdrawn from areas based on how badly they are judged to be performing.

LGC has been told by senior local government figures that disputes are common between NHS trusts and councils over the levels of delayed transfers attributable to social care services. This has led to concerns that councils could be held responsible for poor performance in parts of the system over which they have no control.

When the Conservative manifesto included its ill-fated £100,000 floor on an individual’s contribution to their social care, or the ‘dementia tax’ as it came to be known, the party was accused of making up the policy on the back of a fag packet.

The lack of clarity in the planning requirements and the timing of their publication – four months into a financial year and after many areas would have already agreed plans for the years ahead – suggests a similarly rushed and ill-conceived approach.

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