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Supporting People – There’s Life In It Yet

Posted on January 1st, 2015 in News

i.s.4 suggest some ways of responding to the funding challenge.

The proposed cuts to Supporting People funding are making the headlines across the sector, with very genuine concerns about the effect on the most vulnerable people in our society, and the potential ‘hidden’ knock-on increases in demand for expensive, emergency interventions. But if the overall cuts are to be around the (widely touted) 15% mark, what will be the real effect?

There can be no doubt that the quality of support services has improved over the last decade or so, and, as in the past, often necessity has been the mother of invention - so despite the obvious risks, why are there not more organisations responding positively to the challenge?

A key problem is that whilst many will privately acknowledge that there is always scope for savings and efficiency improvements, putting your head above the parapet runs the risk of your organisation being ‘picked off’. One approach to getting around this problem would be for commissioners to negotiate a reduced contract sum (say by 15%) in return for a renegotiated service level and, to help the contractor manage the change period, give a contract for a longer period, say 3 or 5 years. There’s nothing to stop a provider offering to do the same to same for a commissioner. Yes, inevitably there will be concerns over openness and tendering, and it clearly isn’t appropriate in all circumstances, but for hard pressed local authorities it is a way of managing the cuts without having to retender everything all at once, and the additional cost and risks that would bring.

Inevitably there will be concerns over the risk of reducing quality, but in many services such definitions are difficult to pin down. For example, a generic support service to people with mental health problems may have a client to support worker ratio of 15:1; a 15% reduction in costs would give a ratio of 17:1 or similar. Is that really insurmountable, are we really confident that 15:1 is exactly the right ratio? There is an opportunity here to link any review to the personalisation agenda, (remember that ?), where part of the process of reviewing the content of the support contract would be the clients view of their needs , which may well be very different from what is in the existing contract

Another area for examination is back office costs. With a sector of many small and medium sized operators, there will inevitably be talk of mergers and group structures; however this is unlikely to be the solution in every case and also tends to take time to deliver real savings. Another option to consider is ‘outsourcing’; there is an understandable reluctance from many to outsource and examples of poorly done outsourcing are easy to find, but most organsiations do outsource, (e.g payroll services), and find it very beneficial, it is a question of’ horses for courses’, but any consideration has to be thorough.

Yes, I know that current best practice covers all of my simple examples and much more beyond, but is anyone out there really saying that we can’t go further in improving both service and efficiency? As Sheryl Crow once sang “no one said it would be easy….” , but we must find a way forward.

Yes, we should resist arbitrary cuts, but we should also not deny the economic realities and the on-going need to get best value in all senses of the term from publicly funded ( i.e. paid for by you & me) services.

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