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HOUSING SERVICES IMPROVING FOR VULNERABLE PEOPLE IN CHESHIRE

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A programme administered by Cheshire County Council to deliver housing related support services for the vulnerable,...
A programme administered by Cheshire County Council to deliver housing related support services for the vulnerable, is 'fair' with 'promising' prospects for improvement', according to an independent report released by the Audit Commission.

This new rating follows a re-inspection of the Council's administration of the£21 million Supporting People programme, which was previously judged to be 'poor'. On a scale from zero to three stars the Audit Commission's housing inspection team, in partnership with inspectors from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation and the Commission for Social Care Improvement, gave the service one star.

The inspection team found that the council had made good progress with service reviews and has established a Supporting People team with a good range of relevant skills and experience. Management of the programme is improving and effective relationships between the council, the district councils, the Health Authority and the Probation service are beginning to be productive. The council has moved forward after the previous inspection and fully implemented many of the recommendations given by the Audit Commission.

Yvonne Davis, the Audit Commission's Head of Housing for the North, said: 'The council has made good progress to improve its administration of the programme and to improve the quality and range of services available to help vulnerable people live more independently. We found the council well aware of the areas it needs to continue to improve with a number of actions underway to deliver improved services for the people of Cheshire.'

The inspectors found:

-- A strong programme of reviews of the services people receive, which have resulted in improved services and savings of over£2,489,000.

-- Governance of the programme and the level of involvement of partners has improved.

-- Clear leadership of the programme with a sound financial base resulting from the additional resources the Council has put in to cover the previous lack of capacity.

-- The council is aware of the areas it needs to address such as service user consultation, contract monitoring, improvement planning, and performance management and has begun to address these issues.

However, there are some areas for improvement:

-- The involvement of providers and service users in the development of services is weak.

-- Value for money has not been fully demonstrated cross all services because the Council is not in possession of sufficient information about the needs that exist and the improvements it wants to achieve.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

-- Developing an accurate understanding of need across Cheshire for housing-related support services by establishing a coordinated and systematic approach to identifying need, ensuring that the needs of traditionally socially excluded groups, including those represented by probation are addressed.

-- Developing critical outcome measures that can demonstrate that the programme is making a difference to service users and to the achievement of the Council's priorities and to those shared with the district councils, health and probation..

-- Improving the governance of the programme by working with external partners to agree joint targets and measures for efficiency and value for money.

In 2005/06 the Supporting People programme had a budget of just over£21 million for housing related support services for vulnerable people in Cheshire. In addition, the Council receives an administration grant of£579,000 to help fulfil its role as the administering authority. Through 65 service providers, 313 services are delivered to 12,655 service users throughout the county

Copies of the report are available from Cheshire County Council or on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk/reports/.

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