Where’s the cash?

Supporting People has been compared to the introduction of
community care -Êboth introduced a government grant to replace
a benefit entitlement. But while in the first few years of
community care there was enough funding to effect the transition,
under Supporting People it looks like the cuts will start from day

When administering local authorities received their grants
-Êlater than expected -Êon 20 February, they were shocked
to discover that a “savings adjustment” had been applied. Some
councils will have to make cuts of 3 per cent in the first year of
Supporting People and many by about 2 per cent. The level will be
even higher when the final sums are calculated in July. Savings
will have to be found from existing services.

Supporting People project director Bert Provan has consistently
promised that all eligible legacy funding will be transferred to
providers in the new Supporting People grant. He says: “It is now
expected that there will be a range of savings accrued within year
one following the review process, which has always been a key
element of Supporting People.”

Schemes due to start in the year ahead have been hit hard. Almost
no floating support schemes have been funded nationally, despite 50
per cent matched funding commitments. In some councils, such as
Bristol, the allocation was less than that needed to fund support
linked to new Housing Corporation schemes, throwing some
developments into jeopardy. An appeal process has been instigated
and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is receiving a “vast
amount of calls” on the subject. In cases such as Bristol’s, it has
identified administrative errors and may put in adequate

The ODPM has kept to a promise that charges to existing clients
cannot rise above inflation. To justify cuts, it says there will be
“declining obligations” -Êexisting clients will have services
paid for under the Supporting People grant and not from councils’
funds. But it also implies that new service users will have to pay

However, the costs to local authorities could rise if more service
users become entitled to housing benefit. This is because the ODPM
has ensured that all service users on housing benefit are exempt
from charging. It says: “We are aware that many services have
sprung up that may not be in line with the Supporting People
strategy and other related strategies.” This suggests they could be
targeted for cuts and excluded from a promise to maintain existing
services with Supporting People money.

Bristol’s Supporting People manager, Shaun Fitzpatrick, says: “We
agree that reviews should be robust. But, given we have far more
need in all user group areas, reducing costs of contracts is not
much of an option. Most services are long standing, well run and
meet the council’s strategic aims.” He adds: “Most of us are not
geared up to undertake reviews immediately.”

Before scheme reviews can start in earnest, there is a requirement

  • Appoint new staff.
  • Develop new scheme review processes.
  • Pilot validation visits.
  • Accredit all providers.
  • Collect management information.

To add to the difficulty, the first performance indicators and
quality framework self-assessments will not be available until
summer. The service indicator of cost effectiveness is not even
mandatory in year one.

Little time is left to find savings if notice periods are to be
honoured. Local authorities will have problems if they have already
issued contracts to providers in line with the original timetable
set by the ODPM. Its model interim contract required a year’s
notice before changes could be made, except in cases of major
default. Most local authorities are taking up options such as
bringing forward reviews, not passing on inflation rises and
reducing notice periods.

Meanwhile, many providers are unsure of how much they will be paid
this month. This prevents them giving notice of their charges to
service users and undermines confidence in the Supporting People

Most disappointing for backers of Supporting People is that the
pessimists may feel vindicated. The advice to maximise transitional
housing benefit was right from the start to the end of the scheme.
The reason is simple – once the Treasury has control it always
seeks ways to reduce the budget. If providers have not built in
some fat, there will be lean times ahead. 

Neil Miller is an independent consultant who provides
specialist advice to local authorities and providers on the
Supporting People programme. Contact him at



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