Local authorities must ensure they are getting value for money for their social services spending, health secretary Stephen Dorrell said today. Announ cing the results of a review of social services departments' spending, costs and services, Mr Dorrell said:
'Social services spending has almost tripled in the last decade, from£2.6bn in 1984-85 to£7.5bn in 1994-95. Given the amount of taxpayers money for which social services departments (SSDs) are now responsible, it is essential that they are seen to be publicly accountable for the way in which these resources are used.
'This review gives a general overview of changes in social services spending and activity over the last decade, as well as the range of services provided. Its purpose is to help local authorities prompt questions about their own use of resources, as well as providing information to increase public awareness of these important public services.
Mr Dorrell highlighted some of the main questions to emerge from the review, in particular:
-- whether activity has increased or quality improved sufficiently to account fully for the 73 per cent real increase in spending, particularly in the early years of the decade;
-- whether the rise in real costs of looking after children in local authority maintained homes from£600 per week in 1984-85 to£1,100 per week in 1994-95 is fully justified (both figures in 1994-95 prices);
-- why some social services departments are continuing to place elderly people in public sector residential care at an average cost (in 1994-95) of£283 per week, when the evidence suggests that the private sector option, at an average cost of£246 per week, is better value;
-- there is great variation in service costs between authorities. For example, 28 authorities are placing residents at average weekly costs of over£350 per week, despite the fact that 33 authorities are able to perform the same services for less than£250 per week. Even allowing for some differences in labour costs, this spread raises significant questions.
Mr Dorrell continued:
'The review takes a close look at the whole range of services provided by SSDs and at how people's needs might best be met both in terms of cost effectiveness and quality.
'Social services departments cannot make those decisions without full information and I hope this review will be a significant addition to their knowledge base.'
-- Part of the increase in the budgets of SSDs since 1993 is because of the transfer of responsibilities and money from social security to social services departments under the community care reforms. There will be some further cash additions in respect of these new responsibilities over the nextfew years.
-- In addition to local authority spending on social services, the department of social security spends some£1.7bn on higher levels of Income Support for people who have been in residential and nursing homes since before the 1993 reforms.
-- Copies of Better Value for Money in Social Services: A Review of Performance Trends in Social Services in England are available from the Department of Health, PO Box, Wetherby, North Yorkshire, LS23 7LN, fax: 01937 845381.