Behind the headlines

regular panel comments on a topic in the news.

The government’s drive towards community
involvement in services was stepped up a gear earlier this month when public
health minister Hazel Blears called on social care agencies to hand over more
control to communities. Blears said it was important to give local people more
say in the delivery of services and overcome the problem of alienation.

Blears said: "A monolithic state sector
that provides services in a uniform way and is unresponsive to local communities
will surrender its popularity and will increasingly be disconnected,
undervalued and open to criticism. There is a need for neighbourhood management
and neighbourhood ownership."

She saw primary care trusts as being a means
of building community capacity, particularly in relation to social care.
"The kind of management I am talking about applies more to social care
than traditional medical services – it is what social care should be all

Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute for Health, University of

"Can social care ever do anything right for this government? The
monolithic state sector has long since vanished, and local authorities are now
more responsive to local communities than they ever have been. Put in a straitjacket
by national frameworks and standards, threatened with care trust status for
‘under-performing’, having their local priorities hijacked by the problem of
the acute sector bed, it seems a case of damned if you do and damned if you

Ross, executive director for health and social care, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

"The principle is right, pluralist provision is as old as Marx and local
communities can and do provide services, usually through the voluntary sector.
This is nothing new, nor is neighbourhood management, although the idea that
neighbourhoods might run statutory services bothers me a little. But it needs
extra effort where community capacity is low. Why not bring back real community
development? That this can bring about radical change is one of the many
reasons I came into social work."

Badham, programme manager, Children’s Society
"It’s going around in merry
circles. Clearly local ownership of local initiatives is a good thing. But for
the local approach to work you don’t need speeches. You need accessible
structures, money where it matters, capacity-building and local evaluation. But
this government deliberately confuses local action with local authority
responsibility. The Audit Commission’s recent report decries the government’s
funny money schemes and calls for a simplification of central initiatives and
the proper funding of local authorities."

Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the Elderly
"I do not have a problem with
local groups taking over services if they can deliver them more effectively.
However, I would want to be assured that the government’s motivation for this
approach was focused on service quality and not cost-cutting. If this approach
is adopted, I would like to see the government guaranteeing that the same
amount of money would be available to deliver services and ensuring that any
changes deliver improvements in flexibility and quality, and not cost

Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers Association

"This would potentially open the
way to more privatisation where ratepayers’ money is being used to make a
profit for businesses and is also being put into often shakily funded community
organisations which cannot guarantee that they will continue to be there for
service users. Continuity is very important, especially for children in care."

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