Ministers plan more competition for social care

The government plans to open up children's services to competition as part of its Open Public Services White Paper launched today.

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The government plans to open up children’s services to competition as part of its Open Public Services White Paper launched today.

The government announced it will look to allow voluntary and private organisations to run locally commissioned services such as support for looked-after children and family support, and give children’s centres more control over their funding. It has already announced plans to offer personal budgets to all families with special needs.

“For the services that cannot be decentralised to individuals and neighbourhoods, it is important to extend the successful commissioning approach to services that are not currently open or are currently partially open. Clearly, increased diversity will need to be coupled with strong mechanisms of accountability through open data, public participation and democratic oversight, especially in areas where services for the most vulnerable are concerned,” the White Paper stated.

The local government ombudsman is also to have greater powers to enforce the rights of all those individuals with personal budgets alongside a “zero tolerance” of absolute failure such as vulnerable individuals being abused by their carers. “We will consult on the potential ways to establish zero tolerance of failure on a service-by-service basis”.

In a boost for the recently published Graham Allen Review on early intervention the government promised to look at establishing credible accreditation bodies for public services to mirror the work of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in health. Allen has recommended the creation of an Early Intervention Foundation along similar lines.

Other key changes in the White Paper include:

● incentivising departments and councils to bring together services such as health and social care support or mental health support for children and young people.

● allowing frontline professionals to email the government with recommendations of how to enable staff to work smarter, improve productivity and identify areas where central government could “get out of the way”.

● encouraging commissioners to break up contracts into smaller lots giving a range of providers greater opportunities to deliver services.

● consulting on a sector-by-sector basis on whether it is appropriate to have an independent body to consider complaints from alternative providers.

● limiting central government role to several key roles such as enforcing core entitlements (such as parental rights to school places), setting floor standards, ensuring fair access to services, identifying market failure which require state intervention and ensuring fair funding of public services.

The White Paper will be open to consultation until September and the government will set out a programme of work for departments in November. From April 2012, departments will have to publish regular progress reports on how public services have been opened up.

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