MPs reject return to ring fencing for Supporting People

MPs today rejected calls to reinstate the ring fence for Supporting People but warned action must be taken to protect funding for vulnerable people receiving housing-related support.

In a report, the communities and and local government select committee said the ring fence, which was removed in April this year, should not be reinstated, following an inquiry sparked by the government’s decision to end restrictions on the £1.6bn grant.

Concerns over cuts

The decision sparked concerns that services for vulnerable people served by the scheme – including people with learning disabilities or mental health problems, older people and domestic violence survivors – would be cut.

The committee said such concerns needed to be addressed but this did not require a return to ring fencing.

Committee chair Dr Phyllis Starkey said: “Local authorities should be free to manage their own budgets, but must then be prepared to justify any decisions to redirect Supporting People funds to deliver other locally targeted services.”

Checks and balances

The committee recommended a number of checks on local governments to ensure that funding was not diverted away from the vulnerable people it was designed to help.

Teams developed to commission and procure services under the Supporting People programme should be retained by local governments for their expertise in the area, though they are no longer mandatory, the MPs said.

The report said their presence was “critical in the absence of a ring fence” to the programme’s success.

Backing for assessment frameworks

The report also recommended that the Supporting People quality assessment framework, a self-assessment tool for providers, and the outcomes framework, which is designed to assess whether users’ needs have been met, be made mandatory for all local authorities.

It said the frameworks had “proven their worth in ensuring quality, promoting effective and consistent local and regional commissioning”.

The committee also argued that the Supporting People brand should be retained at a national level to maintain the profile of the vulnerable groups it is targeted at.

Statutory status rejected

However it did not recommend placing the programme on a statutory footing, which would place duties on councils to provide housing-related support services.

The report said that the competitive tendering process for Supporting People placed a heavy burden on smaller charitable organisations as contracts were often short-term.

The report urged local government to pass on the benefits of its three-year government funding cycle, which was introduced in 2008, by providing longer-term contracts to service providers. 

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