A new level of collaboration is needed to protect valuable services from the full effects of the credit crunch, writes Geoff Ettridge (pictured below)
I feel the need to stress again the new urgency to transform the way social care is provided. Whatever one believes about the impact of the public debt on public expenditure there are clear indications of the challenges to come.
The government has recently announced financial support to help voluntary organisations weather the recession: Fair Access to Care Services has significantly reduced the number of people receiving publicly funded support and the national press are finally picking up on the high cost of care for self-funders – and all this before we start repaying the loans taken out to save the banking sector, to reduce the impact of the recession and to meet the costs of higher unemployment.
When the transformation agenda was first set it was in response to the escalating cost of providing care that was predicted to increase over a number of years. However, the extent of the public debt and the pace at which it will increase is such that a new and more urgent strategy needs to be adopted if the social care sector is not to crash.
Clearly any crash will not be as dramatic as that of the financial sector but services could become so targeted and costly that they could rapidly become irrelevant to those whose needs are less than critical. Also, as local authorities pull back from making placements and resist price increases, the care sector could find itself with long-term vacancies or needing to make savings that could reduce the quality of the care they can provide – all of which could lead to more services closing.
So what could a new strategy look like? First I welcome the government’s announcement that it intends to be less concerned about targets and more concerned about user experiences. I would welcome it even more if it also meant that some of the resources tied up in monitoring and preparing performance plans were diverted into developing new services.
Going back 15 years when I first moved into commissioning and contracting, my role within a local authority focused on developing new services. Over the years the job moved more into contracting and the management of support services and had less to do with service development.
Since working independently I have been reminded of the benefits that can come through having someone who could work across sectors to develop new partnerships and services. I’ve also found people in the private and voluntary sectors who would be interested in working in collaboration with each other but who need local leadership to develop opportunities and to help negotiate deals.
More fundamentally I think we need to question the justification for treating the public, private and voluntary sectors as separate entities. One almost expects voluntary efforts to provide better equipment or life-enhancing extras for the users of public services, but this is not the case for people who receive their publicly funded care from the private sector.
This is perhaps recognised in the government’s enthusiasm for social enterprises but in the current financial climate should we incur the cost of setting up new social enterprises when collaborations could be more widely developed between the private and voluntary sectors?
The service improvement permutations that could come through developing cross-sector collaborations could be innumerable and many could be delivered within existing resources. However these new opportunities are unlikely to be realised if we do not transform our thinking about the different care sectors and if we do not deploy people with care and business skills to work as market development workers who would take a more holistic approach to developing local services.
Geoff Ettridge is an independent adviser on care services www.yourcarematters.co.uk
Published in 3 September 2009 edition of Community Care under heading A Strategy to Help us Avoid a Crash in Social Care Services