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Solace: CQC social care plan 'flies in face' of devolution

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The government’s reported intention to task the Care Quality Commission with monitoring councils’ social care commissioning is a “complete reversal” of previous pledges to devolve responsibilities to local authorities, according to the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers.

The Health Service Journal today reported that the government is set to pledge new funding for social care in next month’s budget and introduce a new system of regulation in return.

This is to provide the Treasury with assurances that the money is being used to improve the quality of services and reduce delayed transfers from hospitals.

Solace’s director Graeme McDonald welcomed any new funding, as long as it was enough to make a significant impact, but questioned the logic of establishing a new system of regulation.

He told LGC: “The involvement from inspectors like CQC is an incredibly difficult and time consuming job to do, with very little benefit to either service users or anybody else.

“It would fly in the face of localisation of council tax, business rates, and other things. It is contrary to the direction of travel the government is supposedly making in terms of devolving responsibilities for local government finance.”

Mr McDonald said the complexities of council finances meant the funding would be difficult to track through the system, requiring a significant amount of work and “increased cost to the taxpayer”.

He added: “They [the government] should give the money to councils and let them get on with it.

“It is another example of an NHS type solution trying to be transposed on to local government with no real understanding of how local government works.

“The sector will be in the short term relieved but incredibly frustrated that organisations are going to have to jump through hoops and taxpayers’ money is going to be wasted on people checking each other.”

Izzi Seccombe (Con), chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board said the social care needs a sustainable solution and not “more short-term fixes”.

She added: “[Councils] must remain trusted to continue using their resources effectively and efficiently to meet the needs of residents.

“Inspecting how councils spend money on social care is not the answer to the social care crisis.”

Cllr Seccombe added that social care was about “far more than reducing delayed transfers from hospitals”, but about providing support to enable people to live their lives “to the fullest and with dignity”.

Claire Kober (Lab), chair of London Councils, said additional resources would be welcome, but added: “Access to those resources should not come with reporting requirements or accountability mechanisms that are so onerous that they dampen the impact of the cash that is coming.”

Top tier councils can raise the care precept by up to 3% in each of the next two years but Cllr Kober said the government was either “underestimating or misunderstanding” the scale of the care crisis.

“All of these ‘solutions’ feel more like a sticking plaster rather than a long term solution that puts funding for social care on a sustainable footing,” she said.

“What government needs to do is put new money, and a significant new money, into the system.”

Margaret Wilcox, president-elect of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, agreed a long-term solution was needed rather than “short-term fixes” and challenged the government to show how it will decide to allocate any extra funding to areas.

“If the proposed role of the CQC is correct then we would welcome working with the regulator to ensure that any oversight of adult social care funding or commissioning is effective and proportionate,” she said. “Just as we should be willing to be transparent about how any additional money is used, we look forward to government doing likewise.

”This means the government setting out the evidence for how it has calculated the amount of new investment required to ensure growing numbers of older and disabled people getting the care and support they need.”

Colin Angel, policy director at United Kingdom Homecare Association, welcomed the reported plan to regulate council social care commissioning.

He said: “UKHCA has consistently urged government to give the CQC powers to routinely inspect the commissioning functions of local authorities, particularly with regard to their influence on the stability of social care markets.

“Speculation that this might happen is encouraging”.

A government spokesman told HSJ: “We are committed to maintaining a sustainable social care sector and continue to keep it under review. We are already giving local authorities access to £7.6bn of new money for adult social care.

“This government has gone further to integrate health and social care than any other before it. But this is not solely about money, which is why we are working to find a long term, sustainable solution which helps local authorities learn from each other to raise standards across the whole system.”

This story was updated at 10am on 24 February to include a comment from Izzi Seccombe

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