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Members key to care revolution

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Almost hidden in the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s recent report is an allegation that the most consistent opposition to personalised services comes from elected councillors.

But this is based on field work in only five councils.

It is most certainly not the Local Government Association ’s experience when discussing the future of social care with lead members for adult services.

Councillors will always be concerned about issues of equity, value for money and ensuring that their legal duties to meet the needs of residents are fully discharged.

But this does not mean that they want to impede the life-changing results of the personalised approach described elsewhere in the CSCI report Personalised Support for People with Multiple and Complex Needs. (“CSCI report slams political leadership”, LGC - 29/01/09)

To hear a 51-year-old man say he feels he has only just begun to live now that he has left institutionalised care and has a personal budget is much more convincing than policy documents. This is the just the sort of feedback which lead members are hearing.

The CSCI report dwells on the systems reform associated with direct payments and personal budgets, rather than the wider aspects of the complete change to the social care system envisaged in Putting People First , the Department of Health’s strategy for introducing personalised social care.

Councillors are focusing on commissioning the best possible services to support local people’s lives. This includes their families or other carers where they are a key part of the support the person receives.

Councils want to move away from providing more and more care for fewer and fewer people. Just as important to councils providing a personalised approach is to provide straightforward information and advice for all.

Also growing in importance is work with many other local partners to provide services which can maintain and improve people’s health and wellbeing, so that they avoid the need for institutional care from either social services or the NHS.

In areas which have already introduced services which concentrate on people’s quality of life, local people would not want to see a reversal to the old patterns of professional control, or to maintain an institutionally based approach. This is a key message for councillors.

Susan Woodward (Lab), deputy chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board , is giving very active leadership to this challenging agenda in her authority, Staffordshire CC. She says “Change can be very rewarding because it starts with individual people and what they need for a normal life, rather than other people deciding what is best for them. It reinforces the role of the elected member as the champion for their own community rather a manager of the status quo.”

This is not to say that making fundamental change in the way we plan and deliver social care is straightforward, or that councillors should not be questioning the detail of how that change is achieved.

Indeed, local politics will always remain a fact of life, just as it is when MPs or even ministers oppose NHS changes in their own areas. But the aim of improving local services in partnership with those who use them is key for councils, and the LGA and Improvement & Development Agency will continue to support lead members for adult services in achieving that.

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