Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers has renewed criticisms of councils for failing to open up children’s services to fair competition from the private and voluntary sectors, in a government-commissioned report.
The PwC study on services for disabled children – the latest in a string of reports on children’s services markets for ministers – said there was significant unmet need among families.
Many could not afford to pay for services for their children while those who could had trouble accessing them, and the report said markets for services needed to be better developed.
PwC said many services were dominated by public service provision, including occupational therapy, short breaks and speech and language therapy, and said councils had no incentive to externalise services and create a market.
In an echo of previous reports, PwC called for authorities to “ensure costs are compared in a fair and transparent way across different types of providers”. Voluntary sector organisations have long complained that councils unjustifiably rate in-house services as cheaper than charitable provision by discounting administrative costs.
The report also said ministers’ ambitions to extend individual budgets to families with disabled children cannot be fulfilled for most services because of the absence of a diverse marketplace.
In its 2005 report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, the prime minister’s strategy unit backed the principle of extending individual budgets, currently being piloted, to families with disabled children and called for greater evidence on the issue.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “The third sector provides excellent additional support to local authorities and their usage depends entirely upon the needs of the children. If a local authority chooses not to use a voluntary agency then they must be sure that standards are met.”
● Community Care is highlighting the need for greater support for disabled children this year as part of our mission statement, voted on by readers.