Top Welsh official: Social care commissioning ‘inconsistent’

A top Welsh government official has said social care commissioning in the country is inconsistent and that new standards will provide an “important benchmark” for evaluating council performance in future.

Director of partnerships Steve Vaughan told Community Care that the quality of commissioning had been a concern for some time and been highlighted in a number of inspection reports.

Last month, the Welsh government produced new commissioning guidance for consultation, designed to shift care from acute provision to prevention and handle increased public expectations of and demand for services, including through greater collaboration between councils.

Commissioning standards

It sets out 13 standards, including that commissioning plans must promote seamless services and be based on sound evidence, and that commissioners must take into account the costs of services for providers and ensure they are sustainable.

On the latter point, Vaughan said a memorandum of understanding, signed earlier this year by local government and care provider leaders, provided a “positive framework” for negotiations between councils and providers over costs and the sustainability of services.

Value for money and safe delivery

He added: “Commissioners have to balance value for money against the effective and safe delivery of services.”

Vaughan was one of the speakers at this week’s annual conference of the pan Wales commissioning and contracting network, which brings together local authority commissioning and contracting officers and is part of the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru.

In another speech to the conference, deputy minister for social services Gwenda Thomas also emphasised the importance of good partnerships between providers and commissioners.

Effective dialogue

She added: “Quality will be enhanced, risk will be reduced and the service users will be happier where there is an effective dialogue between commissioners and providers.”

Thomas also told delegates that she would unveil details of the country’s new social services commission “in due course”.

The independent commission, which Thomas announced in June, is designed to examine how provision can be improved over the next decade, including through enhanced collaboration between councils.

ADSS Cymru response

In response to Vaughan’s comments, an ADSS Cymru spokesperson admitted there was “inconsistency” in commissioning but inspections of councils had shown “a sense of progress”.

The spokesperson added: “We have always had to balance value for money against safe delivery. There are serious concerns, however, regarding the uncertainty of the funding situation both now and in the coming years and the effect that this will have on services.”

WLGA warns of austerity

Earlier this week, the Welsh government proposed councils should receive a 2.1% average increase in spending in its draft budget for 2010-11, signalling the start of a “long period of austerity”, according to the Welsh Local Government Association.

The WLGA warned that some of Wales’s 22 authorities may receive a grant increase of less than 1% and called for urgent talks with the Welsh government to place a floor on increases, to protect the worst-off authorities.

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