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Agenda Item No

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Social Care and Health): 18th June, 2012

 

Report of the Director of Social Services

 

Consultation on the Social Services (Wales) Bill

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To inform Scrutiny Committee about the Council's response to a consultation document by the Welsh Government setting out the broad scope of its legislative proposals for the Social Services (Wales) Bill.

Recommendation

1.             That Scrutiny Committee notes the response.

Reason for the Recommendation

1.             To ensure that the views of the Council in respect of the proposed legislation are represented properly in the consultation process and while the Bill is undergoing legislative scrutiny.

Background

2.             On March 12th the Welsh Government published a consultation document setting out the broad scope of its legislative proposals for the Social Services (Wales) Bill in the following areas:

  • maintaining and enhancing the wellbeing of people in need;
  • giving citizens a stronger voice and real control;  
  • ensuring a strong national direction and local accountability for delivery; safeguarding and protection;
  • regulation and inspection;
  • adoption and transitions for disabled children and young people.

The document is attached at Appendix 1.

 

3.             The period of consultation closed on 1st June. The Welsh Government will publish a summary of the representations and the action that it will take in response.  The Bill will be introduced formally to the National Assembly in October 2012 and it will proceed then through legislative scrutiny via relevant National Assembly Committees.  It is anticipated that this process will take around six months before Royal Assent can be sought. Once the Bill becomes law, the process of developing Regulations and a Code of Practice to support implementation of the Act will begin.

4.             The Bill is intended to provide the Welsh Government with the legislative basis for taking forward "Sustainable Social Services for Wales - A Framework for Action", its strategic plan for putting social services on a sound footing announced last year. 

5.             In the strategy, the Deputy Minister made it clear that radical changes are needed, not because social services are in some way broken but because of significant changes in the social and financial context within which they are delivered.  This was also the conclusion reached by the Independent Commission that preceded the strategy.  It painted a picture of a service with considerable strengths, many of which are derived from its position at the heart of local government.

6.             The strategy makes it explicit that wholesale transformation and structural change are not necessary.  Steps to reshape social services are required, however, as a response to factors such as changes in family structures; demography; expectations about service user control; more fragmented communities and the impact of issues like substance misuse. 

7.             Social services and social care are facing real and unsustainable increases in demand.  The numbers of looked after children and those on the child protection register are growing.  The number of people registered with local authorities in Wales as having a learning disability is increasing.  There is a rising number of older people with complex care needs who can benefit from support and whose support needs are extensive.  Moreover, the financial outlook is exceptionally difficult because of profound changes in public sector finances and resources. We must expect to see continuing reductions in budgets for the foreseeable future and so it is not possible to buy a way forward. 

8.             The strategy document concludes that, faced with this context, the choice is either retrenchment or renewal.  Retrenchment it describes as fewer people receiving services, greater expectations that people find their own solutions and increased burdens on informal carers.  Renewal is seen as focusing more clearly on delivery (including preventative services), continuing to innovate and creating sustainable services. 

9.             The strategy introduced eight priorities for action to support an emphasis on renewal. In summary, these priorities are:

  • a strong national purpose and expectation; and clear accountability for delivery;
  • a national outcomes framework;
  • citizen centred services;
  • integrated services;
  • reducing complexity;
  • a confident and competent workforce;
  • safeguarding and promoting the wellbeing of citizens; and
  • a new improvement framework.

10.        "Sustainable Social Services for Wales" emphasises that local government will continue to be accountable for service delivery, identifying need and determining service priorities.  However, the Welsh Assembly Government intends to oversee some changes in governance arrangements for social services.  It will take greater responsibility for driving the direction of services, within a new framework of national outcomes.  It "will ensure that everything is not done 22 times"; there will be clear expectations that more services will be planned, commissioned and delivered on a regional or even a national basis.  The number of partnerships will be greatly reduced.

11.        To take forward the strategy, the Deputy Minister has set up the National Social Services Partnership Forum (for Elected Members) and a corresponding Leadership Group (for officers).  These groups are regarded as key vehicles for presenting early views and discussing issues with wider stakeholders.  Membership of the Forum includes the leadership of key bodies involved in social services in Wales and, from the WLGA, cabinet members from across Wales.  Through the WLGA and the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) Cymru, local government has provided an implementation plan describing how it will take responsibility for delivering specific elements within the strategy.

12.        Much of the programme outlined in Sustainable Social Services for Wales can be achieved without altering current legislation and the Bill is intended to cover areas where this is not the case.  However, according to the Welsh Government, the Bill will also “provide – for the first time - a coherent Welsh legal framework for social services, based on the principles we hold dear in Wales”. It will bring together the duties of local authorities and their partners to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of people and their functions in relation to social care; key processes of social work practice; and the regulation and inspection of bodies/professionals who provide care services.  The overall intention is to:

  • simplify the diverse legislative framework that currently regulates social care in Wales;
  • make access to services much easier and more understandable to those who need them; and
  • give people a strong voice and real control.

13.        The Bill will cover social care services for both children and adults and, “as far as it is possible and appropriate, integrate the arrangements for both of these groups so that social care services are provided on the basis of need and not of age”.

Relevant Issues and Options

14.        Previous reports to Scrutiny Committee and to Cabinet demonstrate how far this Council is already working to deliver many of the key changes set out in "Sustainable Social Services" which fall to local government to take forward.  There have been considerable gains and sustained progress made in recent years in areas such as reshaped models of care and support, improved leadership, a better qualified workforce with skills that enable them to work across organisational boundaries, a more responsive range of services available, more systematic matching of resources to needs, greater service user satisfaction and greater innovation.  However, the challenging context is such that far more radical reform is crucial.  Some of the relevant policy levers are available only on a national level and some require legislation.  The Bill has the potential for assisting the programme of change but it also poses risks.

15.        From the broad scope outline published by the Welsh Government, the proposed Bill is likely to be an exceptionally complex piece of legislation.  The Bill will bring together, into a single unified legal framework:

  • the duties of local authorities and their partners to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of people and their functions in relation to social care;
  • key processes of social work practice; and
  • the regulation and inspection of bodies/professionals who provide care services.

16.        It was agreed that the individual response from the Vale of Glamorgan Council at this time would deal primarily with the broad thrust of the proposed Bill and this response is set out at Appendix 2. The consultation response document itself contains 98 questions.  The WLGA, (from a political perspective) and ADSS Cymru (from a professional perspective) have provided a detailed response to each section; these are attached at Appendices 3 and 4. 

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

17.        There are no resource implications as a direct consequence of this report.  However, the proposed Bill sets a whole range of new challenges that will have to be met at a time of severe financial restraints for local government and social services.  It has been made clear that there will be no additional resources from the Welsh Government for this purpose.  It is right to remain very cautious about whether there will be sufficient resources available to meet increased commitments and expectations in the face of growing demand for services.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

18.        There are no legal implications as a direct result of this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

19.        There are no crime and disorder implications as a direct result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

20.        There are no equal opportunities implications as a direct result of this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

21.        Social services meet the following corporate objectives:

·               "to make the Vale a safe, healthy and enjoyable place in which individuals, children and families can live their lives to the full"; and

·               "to manage the Council's workforce, money and assets efficiently and effectively in order to maximise its ability to achieve its service aims."

Policy Framework and Budget

22.        These are matters for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

23.        None.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

24.        Social Care and Health.

Contact Officer

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services

 

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

 

Responsible Officer:

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services

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