Fencing must stay up

Only two months ago the government published an independent review
of its housing and social care initiative Supporting People which
suggested that some of the funds were being used for purposes other
than those intended. Services previously financed out of mainstream
housing, social care and health budgets were being paid for from
Supporting People coffers.

Budgetary drift of this kind is inevitable when the financial
climate in social care remains difficult in spite of the
government’s much vaunted above-inflation revenue increases. Why,
then, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s decision this week
to question the very principle of ring-fenced budgets for
Supporting People? Any move to abolish ring-fencing – and that
could be the result of the review ordered by the ODPM – would defy
all logic, given the independent review’s finding that budgets are
already spread too widely.

The general trend towards giving local authorities more autonomy
over their own budgets is perfectly sensible. But many councils
still lack stringent financial controls and most are trying to
stretch budgets to meet an ever growing list of demands and duties.
Some are threatened with council tax caps, others are looking to
divert resources from elsewhere. It is hardly the best time to let
Supporting People money off the leash and the ODPM should resist
the temptation to do it.

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