Members of Gloucestershire LINk heard presentations from Gloucestershire County Council employees at a seminar in Gloucester on September 28. The two topics covered were the Council’s Carers Implementation Strategy, and the Fairer Charging Policy.
It turned out that both were about the Council bringing its practices into line with Government guidance. The Council employs people in ways that I had never imagined, so it was a fascinating meeting.
Carers Implementation Strategy
Clearly, ‘Carers Implementation Strategy’ is some kind of shorthand, because the Council does not implement carers and does not plan to. Individuals become carers (that is, they find themselves responsible for taking care of dependants) without any strategic planning on the part of local government, but this fact was somehow lost in the presentation.
The first part of the presentation was an overview of national statistics and government strategy. For example, there are around 56,000 carers in Gloucestershire, and they “save £506 million”.
It is not clear what “save” means in this context. I suppose the idea is that if none of us cared for anyone else, the Council would have to spend £506 million a year to do it for us. But really, if none of us cared for anyone else there would be no Council. Carers are not dependent on the Council. Rather, the Council is dependent on carers and appears to have forgotten it.
The National Carers Strategy dates from 2008, and it was summarised in five bullet points. The top one — seriously, the top strategic goal — was:
• Cross-departmental Commitment
We were not given any examples of what the national strategy had achieved since 2008.
The second part of the presentation outlined Gloucestershire’s action plan, in which a partnership between the Council and the NHS (the PCT, presumably) covers eleven key areas. Unfortunately there was no clear relationship between Gloucestershire’s key areas and the national strategy that had been described just moments before.
Again, to give a flavour of the key areas, here’s the first of them:
1. Joint commissioning
I think this means that where the provider of a service receives funding from more than one public body, there is only one contract jointly with all the public bodies, instead of separate contracts. How this benefits carers is unclear, as it seems as if it would encourage local monopolies, resulting in declining quality.
A long list of achievements followed. Again, here is the first of them, to give a flavour of the list:
• Research programme completed to inform future commissioning
This makes it look as if joint commissioning is some way off, and all that has happened is that there has been some research to look into the possibility. All the achievements were like this in nature, having no clear strategic purpose and no clear outcome for actual carers either.
Questions from the audience brought the presenters down to earth. For example, it was pointed out that the number of carers in Gloucestershire was less certain that it appeared. The figure given had come from the 2001 census, and the Council’s research might miss many carers who are not on any official list.
The Fairer Contributions Policy is a way to increase the income that the Council receives for providing social care services, in line with government guidelines. The increase will be about 8% (of about £5 million).
The money will be raised by removing some subsidies, and by removing the cap that prevents the Council from charging more than £347 a week. Removal of the cap does not affect many people, so the impression given was that most of the money will be raised by removing subsidies.
Around a thousand people in Gloucestershire will pay more for social care. A consultation had found that fewer than a third of people agreed with the changes, but the purpose of the consultation was PR, not to take account of what people think.
Another purpose behind the changes is to make it possible for other providers to complete with the Council in future. At present the Council and its partners in the voluntary and community sector do not operate in a competitive way.
Questions from the audience included speculation that in future people will take out private insurance policies to cover the cost of social care. This seemed to me to be an indication that local government provision of social care is breaking down, but perhaps it is just in the throes of change for the better.
My overall impression
I found it difficult to make sense of this meeting. As a member of the LINk, why would I want to know this stuff? No one took the trouble to explain.
On the one hand it was not a discussion of national strategy (which in any case came from the previous government). On the other hand it did not come down to the level of individuals and their needs, except when questions from the audience raised individual issues.
The meeting gave me the disturbing impression that national government, local government and actual people live in parallel universes that only fit where they happen to touch. Perhaps, though, I was misled by the style of presentation. Perhaps the presenters were re-using presentations designed for internal audiences within the Council, and they inadvertently gave quite the wrong impression.
One of the presentations ended with the bullet point:
• Further engagement with LINks
But the presenter followed up by saying this, which I wrote down word for word:
When we know where we’re going, we’re very happy to come back and let you know.
And that remark sums up my overall impression, which is of a Council that regards ‘engagement’ as one-way. I hope I’m wrong.