Fostering providers hit back at London Councils fee cut plan

A consortium of foster care providers have sent a letter to London Councils slamming a proposed 2% cut in providers’ fees as “unrealistic and unachievable”.

The London IFP Fostering Network Forum, made up of a wide range of providers including TACT, Foster Care Associates and the National Fostering Agency, this week sent a letter to Mark Brangwyn, head of community services at London Councils, challenging the pan-councils’ request.

In the letter, seen by Community Care, the group pointed to a large number of factors that are already placing pressures on their costs including increases in inflation, insurance premiums and the likelihood of increased training needs as a result of forthcoming new national minimum standards from the government.

The forum also struck out at London Councils for leaving it so late to make the proposal, stating it would result in a “significant contractual void”.

Providers had still not seen a proposed new model contract and until it could be scrutinised, consulted upon and an agreement reached, agencies could not commit to proposals on fee levels in future years, the letter stated.

It added that the current contract will end on 31 December, 2009, which leaves London Councils three weeks before the Christmas period to get this work done.

If it was not completed before the current contract ended a “contractual void” which would mean councils would have to negotiate placements on a spot-by-spot basis – a move that would lead to extra work and extra expense on both sides, the forum pointed out.

Along with its benchmark fee proposal, London Councils distributed an electronic fee survey giving providers an opportunity to justify any requested rise in fees. However, the forum’s letter stated that any responses to this survey already submitted by its members were “to be viewed as null and void and any answers received by you and your team are not to be relied upon until the issues as set out in this letter are resolved”.

Outstanding aim

The forum also said that while it supported London Council’s stated aim that all fostering agencies used should be ranked as “outstanding” by Ofsted, providers would also “appreciate the standard of local authority social work and commissioning practice to be outstanding, as this has a direct correlation to our costs and subsequent efficiency savings that we are able to offer”.

Martin Gilboy of Fostering Outcomes, a provider that is a member of the forum, said there were a number of ways the councils could improve their commissioning services.

“Some councils have their own list of preferred providers and in order to get on those lists, providers have to undergo a process that is both time-consuming and costs money,” he said. “Another problem is that some authorities put out their referrals by e-mail and will often just look at the first two or three responses they get. They’re very busy and feel under pressure to move onto the next task, but this approach means that the child is not necessarily matched with the best provider for them and that can potentially lead to a breakdown in the future. It’s in everyone’s interest to achieve the best match possible for the young people with whom we work.”

The forum has scheduled another meeting for 7 December and expects to hear something from London Councils before then.

In response to this letter, Brangwyn said: “This is not about making cuts, but about encouraging care providers to work with local authorities as a united service across London. We have made it clear to all providers that we are seeking agreements on costs. For example, if providers explore how they can share space for events, or organise training in large groups, significant savings can be made with no compromise on the quality of frontline services. We plan to make recommendations to boroughs in the New Year and work with the providers in supporting them to deliver outstanding children’s services.“

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