The roll-out of personal budgets will only deliver personal value for money if councils take steps to increase choice for users in the social care market, the National Audit Office said today.
In some areas, there was a shortage of service providers, particularly personal assistants, brokerage services and support for people with complex needs, and a lack of resource had limited attempts by local authorities to encourage new providers into the market, found the NAO.
Typical problems cited were recruitment difficulties among providers with many potential staff put off by long hours and low pay, which was doubly worse in isolated and sparsely-populated rural areas. High rent in some urban areas was also cited as a problem for new providers.
The report, on user choice and competition in care markets, said new entrants to the market were vital in order to bring about competition, to introduce innovative new services, and help make the market more dynamic, improving value for money in services.
It pointed to good practice in this area, which included councils targeting support to encourage new providers by subsidising adviser posts in voluntary sector advice and support providers; reducing the cumbersome bureaucracy involved in local authority tendering and contracting processes, and providing advice and in some cases limited financial support to help new small-scale care businesses.
It also said that the government must put in place arrangements to protect social care services from the failure of large providers, in the light of the Southern Cross case. The Department of Health will shortly consult on proposals to improve financial regulation for this purpose.
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