Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd20/11/2017
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Adam Price AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Neil Hamilton AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM|
|Vikki Howells AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Enid Roberts||Cyfarwyddwr Cynorthwyol Cwsmeriaid a Chymunedau, Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd|
|Assistant Director of Customers and Communities, Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd|
|Huw Vaughan Thomas||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office|
|Katie Dalton||Cyfarwyddwr, Cymorth Cymru|
|Director, Cymorth Cymru|
|Matthew Mortlock||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Rhian Stone||Cyfarwyddwr Gofal a Chefnogaeth Grŵp Pobl a Chadeirydd Cymorth Cymru|
|Director of Care and Support at Pobl Group and Cymorth Cymru Chair|
|Stuart Ropke||Prif Weithredwr, Cartrefi Cymunedol Cymru|
|Chief Executive, Community Housing Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.
The meeting began at 14:00.
Can I welcome Members to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee? I also welcome our witnesses. Headsets are available for amplification and for translation. Please ensure that any devices are on silent, as usual. In an emergency, follow directions from the ushers. We've received two apologies today from Lee Waters and Rhianon Passmore, and no substitutions. Do any Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point? No. Moving on to item 2.
We have some papers to note. First of all, the minutes of the last meeting, on 6 November. Are you happy to note the minutes? Good. Secondly, the Welsh Government have written with the additional information that they agreed to send to us on the anticipated roll-out date for the Medicines, Transcribing and e-Discharge—the MTeD system—across Wales, following the evidence session on 6 October. Are you happy to note that letter? Okay.
Dr Andrew Goodall's written with the additional information he agreed to send, following his attendance at committee in July, and my letter back on 11 October. His response discusses in-year funding, the finance academy and finance training for health board members and the reporting of deficits. Huw, did you have any comments you wanted to make on that response?
On the in-year funding issue, Andrew Goodall says,
'will not provide funding for boards just to cover deficits',
but the health boards are part of the overall departmental budget; they have, at the end of the year, to cover those deficits. They may not do it directly, but certainly indirectly, they will have to cover the deficits. The other bit that I feel you may want to return to after I've done the accounts for 2017-18 is the issue of cumulative deficits that have been accumulated by the health boards over the three-year planning period.
Are you happy with that and with the response? Okay, happy to note. The last item before we—. Adam Price.
Just on the zero based review, which was referred to in Hywel Dda. I'm very supportive of the principle. Will we get—? It's being evaluated by officials and advice is being developed. Will we then get further information when that evaluation has happened?
Yes, and this is something we can return to at the appropriate point.
I think it might be useful to actually ask for clarification because his letter's relatively silent on the issues that Deloitte found in the governance reviews at Hywel Dda and one or two others. So, I do think that it might be useful just to ask for a supplementary note on that from Andrew.
Are you happy with that? Great. Before we move on to item 3 and our witnesses, I should say—.
You've got another item.
Oh, I'm sorry: one more item. The Permanent Secretary has also responded to my letter on 11 October regarding future reports on senior management pay from registered social landlords and senior officials from higher and further education. Did you want to speak on this as well?
Yes. Shan's letter refers to the fact that she's looking forward to having discussions with my office. I'm certainly wanting to discuss with her some of the issues raised in her letter because I read it that the Welsh Government is trying to make this too complex an issue. I'm sure that we can arrive at a return that meets what the PAC previously asked for—which was an annual return—on a much simpler basis than is suggested here. So, I'll be happy to report back once I've had those discussions with Shan.
I suppose it's for us to decide as well how frequently we want to have reports, whether—
Well, it was PAC that asked for the yearly basis, so I think it's up to you to decide whether that's what you still wish, or whether you want to move to a less frequent return.
To me, a yearly basis seems an appropriate way to go forward. We can always change that in the future if we feel it's not adequate. Are you happy with the yearly reporting? Yes. Okay.
I was going to say it at the start, but I'll say it now before I bring our witnesses in—it has, of course, been a sad couple of weeks in the Assembly, and this is the first meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, as the last meeting was postponed, since the sad passing of our colleague Carl Sargeant. I know I speak for members of the committee, and, indeed, previous Public Accounts Committee members, when I say that our thoughts are with Carl's family at this time. He was a witness to this committee over many, many years in different roles, and was always engaging with this committee and other committees, and I'd like to put it on record how much I appreciated working with him. I will be hoping to attend the funeral on 1 December. But, as I said, at this point in time, our thoughts are with his family.
Item 3. Can I finally welcome our witnesses to this afternoon's meeting? Thank you for being with us. Would you like to give your names and positions for our Record of Proceedings?
I'm Rhian Stone. I'm the director of care and support at Pobl Group and I'm the chair of Cymorth Cymru. I'm here in my capacity as chair today.
Katie Dalton. I'm the director of Cymorth Cymru.
Stuart Ropke, chief executive at Community Housing Cymru.
Enid Roberts, assistant director for customers and communities, Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, and I sit on the north Wales regional collaborative committee.
Thank you. There are clearly a fair number of you and we've got a fair few questions, so if I'm directing things along at different points, that's just to make things flow.
If I can kick off with our first—? I should have said, as well, thank you for the written evidence; that was really helpful in helping us form our questions. I'll kick off with the first question. In terms of the impact of wider policy developments on the programme, do you feel that the Welsh Government's response to all of the policy changes and legislation affecting the programme has been adequate? Katie.
I think it's been communicated in part and variably across Wales, depending on the engagement of different regional collaborative committees in some cases. Certainly, as someone who sits on the Supporting People national advisory board and some of the sub-groups, we frequently talk about the impact of other legislation and things like welfare reform, and they seem to be on the agenda, quite often, of those meetings.
I think our members, providers, landlords and local authority teams are absolutely willing to be engaged in the impact of legislative changes, particularly the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which affects refuge provision, and also the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. I think what would be more helpful from Welsh Government is clarity around priorities regarding those. So, it often sets out the context of those different pieces of legislation and it wants everyone to engage with those, but how and why and what priorities, I think, would be more helpful, going forward.
I think Katie has outlined the wider policy environment very well there. I do think there are two key areas of current context, though, when we discuss the Supporting People programme as a whole. I think the first of those is the funding flexibilities pathfinder project, which I do think is absolutely crucial—and, obviously, it's post the Wales Audit Office report that that really has developed. That is absolutely key and central to this programme now.
The other area of policy development that I think has been absolutely crucial in considering the development of the programme over the last few months has been the supported housing review, which, of course, has been driven mainly by the welfare reform proposals that have emerged from Westminster. I'm not entirely convinced, I have to say, that those two areas of context, post the WAO report, have been taken adequately into account. I'm happy to enlarge, obviously, on the funding flexibilities part, but I think all of us across this—
And the recognition of the future generations Act and what that will mean for legislation—do you think that that's been adequately factored in?
I think it's been raised, and I think many of the ways of working around the future generations Act are absolutely things that are central to the Supporting People programme and the way that providers and landlords work. So, service user involvement, collaboration, the regional planning and prevention—that's all built into the Supporting People programme. I think one of the issues that isn't is the long-term principle, and, as the auditor general highlighted in the Wales Audit Office report, the annual budget round means that services and local authorities are unable to plan strategically for the long term and make sure that they can have maximum impact.
Following on from what Stuart said, I think the Welsh Government plans in these detailed budget proposals around the pathfinder projects in the coming financial year, and the proposal to merge Supporting People with Families First, Flying Start and Communities First in year 2, have been done without consultation with the Supporting People sector. It feels to me that conversations happened with local authorities during the summer in isolation, without consulting providers and landlords operating within the sector, but also without Supporting People teams in those local authorities. I think it sets a huge precedent going forward. It really risks the value of the programme to some of the most marginalised groups and is a massive area of concern for us. So, while the evidence we've submitted to you around some of the legislation is that the engagement has been very positive with Welsh Government, certainly on that example it's extremely concerning, and we have huge, huge concerns about the future of the programme.
Thanks. Neil Hamilton.
Welfare reform is certainly going to present certain challenges for you and for the entire sector, whatever else may be said for welfare reform. The UK Government's recent consultations and their responses to them have not clarified, but perhaps made even more obscure, what these challenges are going to be, with the split between short-term funding and long-term funding now being provided by different parts of Government. Although the UK Government have said that they would transfer an equivalent amount of money for what is already being spent in respect of housing benefit for short-term accommodation to the Welsh Government, we still don't know what's going to happen in relation to housing benefit for long-term accommodation. I wonder if you can perhaps give us your take on what are the implications of this for the Supporting People programme in Wales.
Can I take that one? I think the consultation in England—that's about funding housing costs. Supporting People is about funding support costs related to housing. I think we're in a position now where there is a chance of getting funding for housing costs, but then, without the Supporting People grants and programmes, we won't be able to support the people living in that specific accommodation that we'll be providing.
Absolutely. Those go hand in hand, as was outlined by Enid. I think that any move to reduce or get rid of a Supporting People budget line at a time when we are expecting that welfare reform to come down the corridor to Cardiff Bay would be absolutely disastrous, because without the housing costs, the support costs can't get allocated to a project and vice versa. They absolutely go hand in hand.
I think that the short-term accommodation element of the UK Government's welfare reform is tricky, because I think it was widely recognised that it would be impossible to allocate that through the housing benefit social security system under universal credit, because it takes six weeks to come into people's pockets. There will be some client groups within Supporting People who will have gone into supported accommodation and out again before even receiving that money, so it really did put the sustainability of some of those short-term projects at risk. So, at least if that money is devolved to the Welsh Government, they are able to allocate it to projects accordingly. It provides an opportunity to look at the Supporting People element of the funding and the housing costs and look how we can strategically commission that over a greater number of years if the Welsh Government chose to do so.
I think from our perspective, the supported accommodation review in England and where we've ended up at—actually, we broadly welcome it. We think it offers far greater certainty for the majority of accommodation—and we've touched on the short-term stuff—than any previously mooted model. Westminster, I think, has moved considerably in this regard. I do find a slight irony, though, as we have discussed the changes to the Supporting People budget from 2019-20 and merging funding together. For my members, we were in a position, when we were waiting for the supported accommodation review, of really not knowing what the long-term future was for supported housing. That, undoubtedly, did have an impact on some investment decisions at that time when we were waiting for clarity from UK Government. We now have clarity from UK Government, but, yet, on the other side, and the bit that is controlled by Welsh Government, which is the Supported People revenue pot, that's just added some more uncertainty into the mix. So, we've taken a step forward in one regard, but I don't think we've taken that same step forward from the Supporting People revenue perspective.
Also, in Wales, we were making real progress with the homelessness legislation and the prevention agenda. Again, another sort of irony, really, is that people are looking to Wales as the leaders in the field around this area and wondering whether they ought to have that legislation as well. But it works in Wales because of the Supporting People programme that's wrapped around it. Supporting People is basically a homeless prevention stream. It helps people maintain tenancies, supports all the issues that affect them maintaining their tenancy, prevents people going back to prison et cetera, et cetera, and it has a huge impact on supporting a very large group of marginalised people to stay in stable accommodation. The welfare reform, as you rightly point out, is having a negative impact on that and making life much harder for people. So, the programme is more needed than ever before. That's why we are so deeply worried about the removal of the budget line when we feel like we're making progress with the supported accommodation review. We're going to take so many steps backwards and it will have a decimating effect on the population of Wales.
So, would you say you're broadly optimistic or pessimistic?
I think pessimistic looking at the detailed budget proposals. We were given assurances in the budget deal that Supporting People funding, as Plaid Cymru were aware, was going to be protected for two years. And the reality is that, in year 1, yes, that £124 million is there, but the seven pathfinder projects with 100 per cent flexibility means that it isn't, in reality, for a third of local authorities. And in year 2, the budget line entirely disappears and it's put in with projects that have no direct relation to homelessness and housing-related support—the likes of Flying Start and Families First.
So, we're very pessimistic about that, because certainly for the year 2 proposals we're worried that's the edge of a cliff, and once it goes over we'll see the sort of impacts that we saw in England when the ring fence was removed, which the National Audit Office in England has commented saw 45 per cent cuts to some Supporting People budgets. And we've seen some reports of 80 per cent cuts across three years in some local authority areas once that ring fence has been removed. So, it's terrifying for the client groups that we support.
Unfortunately, some of those client groups are what we would term 'politically unpopular'—homeless people, people with mental health problems, substance misuse problems. Colleagues can tell you that every time you try and set up a supported accommodation project supporting those client groups, the local community are up in arms; they don't want it in their back yard. And the only reason it goes ahead is because that money is ring-fenced. When we put it in a pot with broader groups like Flying Start or Families First, then you're more likely to lose those political arguments about the need to secure that provision for those really vulnerable people. And often it's the client groups who have faced the most adverse childhood experiences—that's what has led to them being in that position in the end.
Well, you make a very strong case. We've got limited time, unfortunately, to explore those different areas today, but we'll certainly come back to that, I'm sure. How do you think the Welsh Government could improve communication about the priorities of the programme and the impact of wider developments?
Sorry, I feel like I'm dominating. I think that what has been difficult for the sector in the past few years is there's been a raft of legislation coming through the Assembly, and different Ministers having different priorities often leaves the sector thinking, 'How do we meet these ever-changing priorities?' So, a bit more consistency from Ministers about what their No. 1 priority is for this programme. It can't be everything to all people, and I think that's why we're so passionate about it being rooted in housing and homelessness, because that's what it does best. It does a whole load of other things that are beneficial to Wales and individuals, but that's what's at the root of it all.
I think that the outcomes work is far from perfect, but it has been making progress over the years. Certainly, we've seen an increase in the outcomes collected over the space of two or three years—an increase of 65 per cent in outcomes collected. So, the sector is engaging more with it; they're collecting more data. There's obviously been some criticism from some people in the sector and in the audit office report around how robust those are and how they're interpreted by support workers filling out those forms. We often hear complaints about the bureaucracy and how much time people spend filling that out, but the sector's really keen to demonstrate impact because they know from working with people every day the life-changing impacts that it has, but also the savings to health, criminal justice, social care et cetera. So, they're really keen to collect outcomes but want to do so in a less bureaucratic way, and to make sure that when they are collecting outcomes they are as robust as possible to show the true impact.
So, I think that we are on a journey. Some positive progress has been made. The sector is keen to do more and more efficiently and robustly. And I think that the consultation on the outcomes framework and the guidance certainly is part of that journey. In the audit office report, there was criticism of the principles or objectives of the programme not being clear enough in terms of their focus on homelessness. The newly proposed objectives in the new guidance absolutely put that front and centre, so I recognise the issues. I think we're on a journey, and I think the sector are really committed to showing impact.
Anyone else want to come in? Rhian Stone.
Just to add to that, I think there could be some stronger messages about how we integrate across different agendas. So, the Supporting People programme saves a lot of money for other parts of the public purse, particularly around health, probation. So, every time we work with somebody and stop them going back to prison, I think it saves nearly £40,000 in somebody not re-entering the criminal estate. So, I think in terms of—. Perhaps, sometimes, it's not known, the wide impact that we do have, and some kind of acknowledgement or leadership about how those things work so, when you are setting new agendas or guidance or whatever in those other parts of the public services, there's that read-across into the SP programme. So, for example, I've got a complex needs service in Newport. We have people coming out of hospital with serious mental health problems. We have people coming out of prison. We have highly complex individuals, prolific offenders. We have all kinds of people and we do this incredible job, turn their lives around, help them get them stable accommodation. And I think that bit about the impact of the programme, just how valuable it is, needs to be more clearly articulated from a Government perspective.
Yes. And one of the jobs that we do is prevention. And it is really difficult to measure what we've prevented. So, I think it's really important that we look at long-term studies, like the secure anonymised information linkage data, where we interlink data from health with the data from our client group, to be able to demonstrate, in the long term, the differences we're making to people who are very vulnerable—they're particularly vulnerable people.
With regard to the SAIL data linkage project, I think we've referenced it in our written evidence, but that's currently in year 2 of, I think, a four-year project, and that's looking to link the Supporting People anonymised data with use of GP surgery, A&E and emergency hospital admissions. And the feasibility project showed that people's use was increasing in the 12 months before they hit a Supporting People service, went up a little further as they engaged properly with services, but then, after another 12 months, dropped back down to below pre-support level, indicating to us that Supporting People was helping them to manage their health better, use health services in a more appropriate way, and that's also borne out in our conversations with service users. We did engagement events in January across the whole of Wales, spoke to about 170 people who use services, and they reported that, with the support, they were able to better use health services in a more effective way, get help earlier where they may have had anxieties about going to statutory services in the past, and also manage their well-being better, so that they didn't need to use emergency services as much. So, I think what I would say is that it's ongoing. It's really robust data that will be collected out of this, but we need to give it more time to let the project come to an end, and certainly getting rid of the Supporting People budget line and merging it elsewhere is not the right thing to do in the middle of the SAIL linkage project.
We're getting the pessimistic feeling that you were talking about earlier. Neil Hamilton.
That's fine. Thank you.
You're done. Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you panel for telling us all—. But I'm not going to mention that it's all doom and gloom at the moment. I think the Government is doing whatever they can under the circumstances of these financial constraints all over the United Kingdom. Do the draft strategic objectives that the Welsh Government consulted on recently provide sufficient clarity about the programme's core purposes? What do you think about that?
I believe that preventing homelessness is the No. 1 objective within that. And, for me, that would absolutely be central to it. Reading the auditor general's report, and recognising that that distinct focus on homelessness was missing from the original objective seems really alien to us, because that is at the root of everything that Supporting People does, whether it's putting a roof over someone's head in supported accommodation, or whether it's providing floating support that enables someone to avoid eviction. So, yes, that clarity of placing homelessness and tenancy support right at the heart of the objective certainly is a welcome move from our perspective.
And it's a key point really, and part of supporting the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and the homelessness provision there and the prevention and the work we do when people are threatened homeless within 56 days. We can turn that—the stats there are really good; 68 per cent of that is prevented, and much of that work is done by our support officers, funded by the Supporting People grant.
If we look at the priority needs groups, in terms of the homelessness code and guidance, they absolutely mesh, straight on, with the target groups for Supporting People funding. It says to me that homelessness absolutely has to be at the heart of this—this is housing-related support, and it's absolutely crucial we don't lose that.
What do you think? Do you think Government is not connecting with people, with homelessness and all the rest of it, and the information is not filtering down to the Government level to understand the real objective, what they're needing in Welsh society?
So, there's an issue with some of the data collection, in that some official statistics are collected by Welsh Government in relation to Part 2 of the Housing Act, and that is around their statutory duty to prevent homelessness—what we refer to as the 56-day duty. And those are the stats that are collected every quarter, often published and covered in the news. And then, in a different place, Supporting People statistics are captured in different ways. And not all the people who use Supporting People services have gone through the homelessness route—they may have been referred elsewhere—so they're not necessarily caught in that system. So, what we see is an underestimate, really, of how much good work the Welsh Government is achieving through local authorities on homelessness prevention, because there's a whole bunch of people—around 60,000—going through the Supporting People programme each year, and that's not captured within the homelessness statistics. So, everyone across the sector, from providers, landlords, and local authority teams, have been really keen to try and join up that data and make sure that we demonstrate the true extent of homelessness prevention within the Supporting People programme. But I think that's the nature of new legislation coming in—people setting up systems to meet the statutory objectives of that legislation and then afterwards thinking, 'Oh, we've missed something; how do we connect those up?' I know that SP has started looking at some homelessness data, collecting people's status on entry and then status on exit, and that has shown some really positive—as we would expect—results. But I think it's more about systems working together more effectively. And I think that does happen, inevitably, better where Supporting People teams are based in housing and homelessness teams. Where they're based in social care teams, it's more difficult to do. And, again, that comes with a warning about the funding flexibility projects—again, that could take Supporting People out of housing.
And, because of the 56-day rule, if we've done a really effective job and prevented a person's tenancy being put at risk in the first place, they don't even get to be at risk of homelessness, because we've managed to put that support in and we've managed to build a resilient tenancy that that person then can retain and then build on their confidence and then their emotional well-being so that they then can become—you know, and contribute to our society.
Thanks anyway. What are the lessons to be learned from the mixed effectiveness and impact of regional working over the past five years?
I'll let the two colleagues who sit on RCCs speak. But I think, from a general perspective, the Aylward review recommended that the regional collaborative committees be responsible for commissioning as well as the regional planning. And that didn't end up getting taken forward by the Welsh Government. So, the RCCs are in a position where they don't have a statutory footing and they don't have a commissioning position, but they're supposed to do needs assessment and advise and sign off local authority plans. And I think that, in some areas, the RCCs play a much bigger role in that, and in some areas they do not. And probably some of that is based on the nature of regional working historically; some regions already did it very well, some regions did not. But I'll let you speak about that.
I sit on the north Wales regional collaborative committee, and, although it took us a while to find our feet, I think by now it's a really good group of professional people working together to influence what's going on in different work streams in north Wales. If you look at the work going on at the moment, we've got really good joint working on dealing with prison leavers, which is driven by the new Berwyn prison in Wrexham. We've got really good joint working on the domestic abuse services, working to try and joint commission domestic abuse services with the new regional domestic abuse services, led by the Act in Wales. Also, we've got in north Wales the 2025 health equality movement, and we are working very closely with that movement, and then, through that, into health and getting joint working on mental health services. And that work is really valuable; it's bringing consistency across the services, and it's making sure that we're doing it right and efficiently right from the beginning. So, I really think that the north Wales RCC is doing a great job at the moment.
I was the vice-chair of the Gwent RCC. So, I think everyone was really excited about the RCCs when they came in, because they were going to have some power and a bit of teeth, and they were going to be able to make decisions about what was commissioned, and then that didn't happen. But, as a collaborative group, the Gwent RCC—as Katie said, they're built on a set of relationships that were already there and strong—has worked really well. Part of it's within the bounds of the way the RCCs are constituted; so, in terms of the individual pieces of work and things that it's managed to achieve on all the agendas, as my colleague has just run through, for example, in Gwent, we set up the service user website. So, part of the RCC's role is to involve people who use the programme more closely, so we've set up a website and, across the whole of Gwent, people can access ideas and events and give their ideas and thoughts on the programme and really engage with the programme. We did a huge piece of work on older people and on learning disability. We produced this booklet a couple of years ago, which used a cost-benefit analysis tool of all the work we've been doing, and there's been needs mapping and looking at the commissioning plans and an open dialogue about whether they were meeting need.
But, ultimately, the power and responsibility for those commissioning arrangements still sits with local authorities. So, in my experience, from the Gwent RCC, it's worked as well as it could do within the sort of arrangements for its set-up, but I know that it's been a bit mixed in other areas for a variety of different reasons.
I think we've heard very positive experiences, actually, both from north Wales and Gwent, but, from our position, having spoken to our members across Wales, we absolutely agree with the second recommendation that the auditor general made around reviewing whether those arrangements across Wales remain fit for purpose, especially in the context, I think, of other collaborative Government arrangements that are now out there, such as the public services boards.
We'd very much like to see PSBs placing housing at the centre of their strategies and how that helps to focus on better quality health and patient care. We also feel that there are lessons for public services boards to learn from the RCCs and the experience that they've been through in terms of setting up those collaborative arrangements. So, we would very much welcome a review, to allow good practice to be shared and perhaps deal with some of those issues that still remain across Wales.
I think the perspective of our members would be that practice remains inconsistent across those RCCs if we look at them in the round.
Briefly, Oscar, before we move on.
Thank you very much.
I was just wondering—sharing best practice: I heard north and I heard south-east Wales, and you were saying, Stuart, right in the middle. But best practice, the sharing of best practice in your area: is there any channel through which you co-ordinate with each other, or is it just a matter of firing your own guns?
Each RCC has a regional development co-ordinator. There's a regional development co-ordinator who supports the work of the RCCs, and I think they're very effective at sharing information and best practice, and then the work of the RCCs goes up as well, doesn't it, into Welsh Government, to SPNAB, the Supporting People national advisory board. So, there are channels and flows, and, where there have been inconsistencies, as Stuart said, Welsh Government have played that role in trying to sort of tighten up and get more consistency across all of the RCCs.
I think that's fair, but what I would say is that Welsh Government representation at those RCCs is no longer at the level it used to be.
Yes, it's changed.
Whether that's a resource issue or for another reason, that is an issue, I think, in terms of ensuring that consistency.
We've also got more—. You know, we do have informal mechanisms in place to share some of that best practice, both around commissioning and services, and we jointly run with Cymorth Cymru the supported housing forum, and that's been very, very important in terms of sharing practice across the piece.
I think the reality is that the power lies with local authorities, and, if they're willing to co-commission and work together on services, then it works more effectively, and, when there are a variety of reasons for local authorities not wishing to work together, it's not going to happen. The power of commissioning lies in their hands, and so it's, to a certain extent, up to them whether they want to pursue the regional agenda.
Hoffwn i droi yn fyr at bwnc newydd, sef gair hyll am syniad arbennig o bwysig, sef cydgynhyrchiant, neu co-production yn Saesneg, sef, yn fras, y syniad bod pobl a chymunedau a gwahanol randdeiliaid yn cymryd rhan yn y broses o ddelifro polisi a gwasanaethau. Mae yna gyfeiriad yn adroddiad yr archwilydd at farn Llywodraeth Cymru fod symud tuag at egwyddor o gydgynhyrchu yn esbonio peth o'r diffyg cynnydd sydd wedi bod wrth fynd i'r afael â rhai o'r materion a oedd wedi cael eu hadnabod gan adroddiadau o'r blaen. A ydych chi'n derbyn y farn gan Lywodraeth Cymru, hynny yw bod symud tuag at gydgynhyrchiant, fel rhyw fath o quid pro quo, hefyd weithiau, wrth gwrs, yn gallu arafu cynnydd rhaglen?
I'd like to turn briefly to a new subject, namely the ugly word for a very important idea—co-production, which is, broadly, the idea that people and communities and different stakeholders take part in the process of delivering policy and services. There is a reference in the auditor general's report to the opinion of the Welsh Government that moving towards the principle of co-production explains some of the lack of progress that there has been in terms of tackling some of the issues that were identified in previous reports. Do you accept the Welsh Government's view, namely that moving towards co-production, as some kind of quid pro quo, can sometimes decelerate progress in a programme?
I think the very nature of co-production is that you try to engage with a wide range of stakeholders within that and, in the case of people who use services, that takes a different approach and more effort than bringing together some professionals. I think that it also seeks to find some sort of consensus around a way forward, and I think that that often takes a lot longer than having fewer stakeholders around the table to make very quick decisions, which may not be in the best interests of people using the services in the long term but gets things moving more quickly. So, I think there is an element of truth in what they say. I think that lots of factors affect the speed of change and the movement, but I absolutely accept that that is part of it.
Ond a ydych chi hefyd yn meddwl bod—? Rwy'n derbyn beth rydych chi'n ei ddweud, wrth gwrs—wrth gynnwys mwy o bobl mewn trafodaethau, wrth gwrs, mae hynny wedyn, wrth reswm, yn golygu arafu'r broses o wneud penderfyniadau. Ond a oes cyfrifoldeb ar Lywodraeth Cymru hefyd i sicrhau bod y gweithdrefnau a'r strwythurau mewn lle ar gyfer sicrhau bod y math yna o drafodaeth fwy cynhwysol yn medru digwydd, ac yn medru digwydd mor gyflym ag y gellir ei wneud?
But do you also think—? I accept what you say, of course—including more people in the discussions, of course, naturally means decelerating the process of making decisions. But is there a responsibility on the Welsh Government to ensure that the procedures and structures are in place to ensure that that kind of inclusive discussion can happen, and as quickly as possible?
Yn sicr, mae yna gyfle, rwy'n meddwl, ar hyn o bryd, efo pethau fel y public services boards a lot o gyrff eraill. Rydym ni i gyd yn chwilio am yr un wybodaeth, ac rydym ni i gyd angen ymgynghori efo'r un un boblogaeth. Felly, os byddai fframwaith ar gael a fuasai'n ein galluogi ni i wneud hynny efallai ar y cyd, efallai y byddai hynny yn ein galluogi ni i gyrraedd at lot mwy o bobl, a hefyd efallai i gael ffyrdd mwy consistent o fedru cael y wybodaeth yma. Beth sy'n bwysig, wedyn, yw ein bod ni'n medru rhannu'r wybodaeth ac yn medru gwneud y gorau ohono fo i ddatblygu ein gwasanaethau ni ar gyfer y dyfodol.
Most certainly, there is an opportunity at the moment, I think, with things such as the public services boards and many other organisations. We're all seeking the same information, and we all need to consult with the same population. So, if there was a framework available that would enable us to do that jointly perhaps, then that may enable us to get to far more people, and also perhaps to get a more consistent approach in gathering that information. What's important, then, is that we're able to share that information and make the most of it in order to develop our services for the future.
Ocê, diolch yn fawr.
Okay, thank you.
I also think that the annual funding allocation can sometimes prevent people from making meaningful change at a strategic level to commissioning services, when they don't know whether they're going to be able to fund them for more than a year.
Okay. Vikki Howells.
Thank you, Chair. I've recently had the pleasure of going to visit two Supporting People projects in my constituency—one example of fixed support and another example of floating support. To build on what Adam Price was asking you there, the ones that I've seen are examples of services that are growing and doing very well, but overall, then, what key impacts have budget pressures and funding uncertainty had on service planning and delivery, to expand on your last answer there, Katie?
Can I give one recent example? In north Wales, we've been looking at joint commissioning of domestic abuse casework to support survivors. We were hoping that all the local authorities would be able to allocate a bit of their Supporting People grant money to that project, but because of the short term and the lack of knowledge about what's happening to the grants, they felt that they were unable to commit, and I feel that if there was a long-term commitment, then they would know about their spending plans and they would be able to look long term and say, 'Well, yes, this is a project that's worth us being able to fund, and we know we've got confidence that that funding stream is going to be there for us to make a difference.'
I was reading, just this morning, actually, a BBC report about a men's refuge in north Wales, in Flint. So, would that be the kind of example that you think we might be able to see more of if there was more certainty around the funding?
Yes, certainly, and because of the joint working in north Wales, what Flint has offered is that that's the only refuge for men that we've got in north Wales, and so they will open it up for other areas as well. And that's purely because of the confidence and the good relationships we have, working around all the authorities in north Wales, and knowing that if Flint help us, then we're likely to help them back with some other project.
I think you see the impact of what you described at all levels. So, at a local authority level, the Supporting People commissioning teams have very little certainty about what they can commission, certainly beyond one or two years, and that ends up—. We see some sometimes problematic approaches to commissioning where it's very risk averse, but also trying to drive down costs as much as possible in order to protect themselves if their funding did get cut in the next year. You see the impact on providers and landlords, who have got no certainty about that income coming in, and then you see staff teams, their well-being being eroded, because they have no idea whether this service and therefore their job and their employment will be there in future years. And then you see staff turnover: people moving on to statutory sector jobs because they don't have the certainty in the Supporting People sector that their job will be there next year.
Unfortunately, we also see the impact on service users as well, so, at the engagement events that I spoke about earlier, that was a common theme coming through from service users—that they were very aware that public spending was being constrained, that their service might not be around to support them in the future. And these are 60,000 of the most vulnerable people in Wales—this is their lifeline. Many of them described it as having saved their lives—that they would have been suicidal, rough sleeping, sectioned if they had not had this service. And so for them to then be affected by the funding uncertainty is really painful to see, but they absolutely understood the context that these services operate in. So, it's at every single level that the impact is felt.
I think we absolutely accept the need to drive efficiency and cost savings wherever possible in the public spending pot, and that's the reality that we operate in. But I do think there has been—reported to us by our members on numerous occasions—a lack of clarity on occasion for the reasons why services are retendered on such a regular basis. That doesn't help long-term planning. It actually, I would argue, doesn't help bring services together so they can mesh appropriately and the like. I absolutely support the recommendation that was made by the auditor general in his report on retendering and the need to minimise uncertainty.
Talking about the meshing of services as well, certainly from the projects that I've seen locally, there has been a really good interplay between the fixed support that's been offered and the floating support, and the one has led very neatly into the other on many occasions. From the evidence that we have in front of us today as a committee, there's obviously been a change in the overall proportion of programme funds that are spent on floating support versus fixed support. What do you all see as the main reasons behind that?
Floating support costs less than fixed support, so I think when local authorities are under pressure, facing less money but having to deal with what everyone accepts as a higher demand and complexity of need for services, then they're looking at the best way to share the pot out and meet the needs of the people in their population. Unfortunately, that means sometimes that balance between fixed and floating is driven by the need to save costs. I think that there are many benefits to both fixed and floating, and the reality is that for some people who've hit a large crisis, who have multiple and complex needs, they absolutely need the fixed-site accommodation to help get them, within that two-year period, to a place where they can be expected to move on with floating support to have their own tenancy.
On the long-term support as well, following the Aylward review in 2010, we had to make sure that there was a need for the services we supplied, and therefore it is easier then to have the floating support follow the need, because in the long term, fixed accommodation—. We might have, maybe, older people coming in who don't quite need the service yet because they're just thinking, 'I'm moving into sheltered accommodation', and then as they get older and get more frail they'll need those services later on. Therefore, for the fixed—. Certainly in our services, we offer less fixed now because not everybody in all sheltered accommodation gets the service, so we're more effectively targeting the resources we have at the need out in our society.
The reality is they're both vital services, as you saw, and they play different parts at different times. So, we need those, we need the private rented sector and we need a whole range of things to be able to offer the diversity of need. And I think what's really important is that we commission that on a needs basis, and that those services—. It's not a kind of, 'This is good; that's not good', 'We're doing this because it's cheap'; we're doing it because it's the right thing to do, and having more floating support coming out of fixed accommodation is critical to stopping people coming back round the system. So, it can be so cost-effective to provide even a small amount of support for people coming out of shared accommodation, to keep them going and stop those little things building up so that they face homelessness all over again. So, I think it's both that are needed in a diverse system.
And I think the RCCs and Welsh Government have got a role to scrutinise those problems, because you can't necessarily say that a change in balance in itself is a negative thing: what is important is why that's happened and what the nature of it is. So, the older persons provision absolutely came out of the recommendation of the Aylward review, and I think everyone recognises that that's a positive step—that older people who have the needs get that support, and those who do not are not just placed in that expensive accommodation for no good reason. But I think if we continue to see that trend, then the RCCs and Welsh Government need to interrogate that and make sure that people with hugely complex needs are not losing out as a result, because that will create long-term consequences for both those individuals and their communities.
Thank you. My last question in this section then, please: looking at the differences across local areas, there seems to be a wide variation in financial support for different client groups across local authorities. To your mind, does that reflect real local and regional planning and well-evidenced local needs, or is it just based on historical patterns?
I think there's probably an element of both there, and I think that it's really important that we interrogate the RCCs and Welsh Government and ask the questions about why that is and seek justification. But the reality is that we have 19 different client groups, and within each of those client groups there is some more expensive fixed-site accommodation, there is some floating support, and even within that there is a real diversity of complexity and need. So, you could have a quite low-level floating support service that is quite cheap to administer being directly compared to a fixed site, 24-hour staffed accommodation unit for people with multiple complex needs. So, I don't think we can read anything off the face of it, but I think it's important that RCCs and Welsh Government scrutinise that and absolutely understand whether there are projects that are not delivering value for money, but I think, in lots of cases, there probably is a justification for differences in costs, based on what I've just told you.
One statistic that I've picked out, for example, is that only three local authorities use the funding to provide support to people with autism, whereas we know that autism is a condition that is becoming more and more diagnosed and recognised, so that seemed quite strange to me.
Yes. I think in some areas it will be funded by social care services instead of SP services, and that, partly, is based on the historical, but also around definitions of what is regarded as housing-related support or social care.
I think that's the critical thing—that Supporting People has to be housing-related support. So, I've got a number of projects that are for people with learning disabilities or autism, but their housing-related support, first and foremost, that's—. And then there's the specialist skills to support that particular group of people to maintain their tenancies, and then if you shift the balance into, 'Actually, they need more care or specific support around their learning disability', then it needs to be either a joint-funded project where Supporting People and care can be aligned, which does happen successfully, or it needs to sort of move across into a different sort of funding pot, really.
Just before I bring Mohammad Asghar back in, in your evidence, you've said that you think funding should,
'ensure that client groups which are less "politically popular" receive the support services they need.'
That's in the Cymorth Cymru evidence. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes, sure. It's kind of even more important now in the context of the detailed budget proposals because, as I outlined before, there are some groups who are less, as I've termed it, 'politically popular', and those would usually be people with mental health problems, substance misuse problems, homelessness. As I said, when new supported accommodation projects are going through planning processes in a local authority, there is often huge opposition to that. People agree that people with those sorts of issues need supporting but they don't want it in their local community because of the risks they perceive to their children or their families. I think then it becomes very difficult to go up against that local opposition when you are a local councillor who depends on election to get you into post.
One of the benefits of having the ring-fencing of Supporting People is that it has to be spent on housing-related support, and that includes the client categories that we've seen outlined in the documents. One of our fears is that, over time, as budgets get constrained, the first people you cut services for are those ones that are not electorally popular, and it would be easier to allocate some money to families with support needs or young people or older people in sheltered accommodation than it would be to people with multiple complex substance misuse and mental health issues who are homeless.
So, that loss of ring-fencing is once again a problem in this area as well.
Yes, absolutely. Similar concerns were raised about those client groups in England when it was proposed there as well. I should say that we don't think anyone intentionally wants to see—. I don't think there's anyone sat in a local authority around Wales who says, 'We want to cut funding for those people.' That's absolutely not what I'm saying. Our concerns are that, over time, you'll inevitably fund the more politically popular groups and that other clients will lose out. And, unfortunately, they'll probably end up delivering the biggest cost to public services in the long term, if they're not supported appropriately early on.
Good. Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you very much, Chair. What does the panel think are the needs to be considered in developing and implementing a new funding formula and how much dialogue has there been to date about the way forward in this field—I mean the funding formula?
We recently had dialogue at the Supporting People national advisory board, and it has been talked about in a variety of Supporting People sub-groups and I believe at regional collaborative committees as well. I think it's a really tricky one because, inevitably, there will be some winners and some losers out of this process. So, those who have historically been underfunded would like that process to move very quickly and for them to get the funding that meets the needs that have been judged of that population and others who may have been overfunded, shall we say, obviously would like to hold on to that money, particularly when budgets have either been cut or have flatlined, because even though the budget's been protected at £124 million for the past couple of years, that, in real terms, is a loss to services where costs have increased.
I think that people want to engage. Not everyone is convinced that the funding formula that was decided on last time was the right one. I don't know if that is split evenly between the people who would have benefited and the people who would have lost, but I think, certainly, it's recognised that that needs to happen, but people want it based on evidence and, I guess, in an ideal world, in a budget that is increasing so that people are not facing double cuts if they're some of the local authorities that will lose out in the redistribution.
I think one of my concerns is that, if you've got very effective preventative services, that area is going to look like there's no need there, whereas really you might be cutting funding to some services that are working really well, just because they're effective.
The other thing that I think we should look at is that, if the Welsh Government has key objectives and priorities, maybe the funding formula should follow those objectives.
I think it's clear though that there needs to be some—
An interesting concept.
There needs to be some decision on the way forward on that, because it's been going on for quite a long time, the discussions around the formula. Obviously, some of the areas of very high concentrations of need are feeling that their population demands are increasing all the time and people are getting more complex and yet the money isn't following that. And then, obviously, there are other communities with other pressures as well—rural communities. I think it needs a clear steer on how we're going to resolve this issue, what is going to be the basis for the formula, and to move on.
Thank you. What do you see as the risks and possible benefits to the provision of housing-related support of establishing an integrated early intervention and prevention grant?
Where do you want me to start? I think one of our biggest concerns is a reduction in the funding and services to the groups that are currently supported by the Supporting People programme. I think that losing its focus on housing is a huge risk. As Rhian outlined earlier, we've got a lot to be proud of in terms of the Housing Act and the preventative nature of Part 2 of that Act, and also of Supporting People's contribution to that. One of our fears is that this merged grant—you know, Supporting People—is being put in with a load of grants that have got nothing to do with housing and homelessness, and that therefore it will dilute the purpose of the merged grant over time. I've already outlined the possible impacts on politically unpopular groups in the long term, and I think that the close links it has with homelessness departments, both at local authority level and in the Welsh Government directorate, will be lost because it will inevitably be placed elsewhere, because the vast majority of those grant funding streams are nothing to do with housing and housing-related support.
As I've said, we've seen the impact in England of the ring fence being removed—figures of up to 80 per cent cuts over three years in some local authority areas. We know that we're still facing financial constraints to the Welsh budget and local authority budgets, so I cannot see there being a positive outcome.
One of the major concerns that we have is these funding flexibility pathfinders—pilot projects that will be happening this year. There is absolutely no time to evaluate that or assess their impact properly before putting things into a merged grant in 2019-20. No-one, I think, working on this has any understanding of how it's possible to make that judgment. What we're looking at in year 2 of the budget is full-scale change—taking something out of housing and homelessness and putting it into a merged grant with areas unconnected to housing and homelessness, based on no time for evidence about whether that's the right thing to do, is hugely, hugely concerning. So, we don't think that there is any evidence in favour of it, and we think there's a whole load of evidence against it. When homelessness is increasing due to things like welfare reform, then it's absolutely the wrong time to be doing this.
With the devolution of the supported accommodation review money as well, I think this is an opportunity to take a look at the homelessness and housing-related support provision, and look at that alignment. We absolutely understand that Ministers want to align grants. They want to reduce bureaucracy, they want to look at more efficient ways of doling out the money. As I've said, we don't believe that Supporting People belongs with those other grants, but we're absolutely prepared to look at that in the context of the homelessness prevention grant and the supported accommodation review money. We're absolutely willing to engage in constructive discussions about alignment and merging of grants, but it absolutely must be within housing and homelessness.
It just really doesn't make any sense, and it's happened so fast. So, you've got programmes where they're measuring school attendance, and then programmes where you're supporting rough sleepers to get into supported accommodation and help them with their mental health. There's no obvious alignment between those programmes whatsoever. There's clearly an alignment with housing on the Supporting People agenda and homelessness prevention. Anyone who has been to England recently—any of the major cities in England, like Manchester—will have seen that the homelessness problem is just horrendous. That's because of the decimation of the Supporting People programme that's happened over there. We're seeing rises here. We see it in our city here, in Cardiff, but it's going to get a lot worse. This step towards aligning the programme with these other two grants, taking the ring fencing off, is just a ridiculous decision that would cause decimation to our services.
I absolutely echo what Katie and Rhian have said around the ring fence. I think the important point to come back to here is evidence-based policy making, and I think there is a rush here to take decisions before evidence has been considered. In fact, if you look at the wider Supporting People programme as a whole, we've talked about the data linkage project, and we're in the second year of a four-year project, looking at data linkage. My understanding of the early data that's come into that, in terms of savings to the health service from the SP programme, is that it's very, very encouraging. It seems, to me, to move away from a basis of a ring-fenced pot, which clearly seems to be doing good things, to taking a decision that I don't think is evidence based at this stage doesn't look sensible. We are more than willing to have a discussion, we understand the need for efficiencies, understand that sometimes things can work better, but please can we do it from a basis of evidence?
In my view, both the pathfinder projects in year 1, which clearly have limited impact—they're only in seven local authorities, and commissioning of every project doesn't happen every year—. But the decision in year 2 to move into this merged grant is an absolute breach of the budget deal. The Welsh Government can in no way say that that budget is protected if it is put in with a bunch of other funding streams. There's just no way they can possibly describe that as protected.
So, my members feel utterly misled, and that goes for people working in provider charities, in registered social landlords, and, if I'm honest, in local authority Supporting People teams. I'm sure you'll hear from the Welsh Local Government Association, who will—. They have their overall line about they don't want any ring fencing and they want the flexibility to spend everything however they would like. But from an on-the-ground level within Supporting People teams in local authorities, they're deeply, deeply unhappy about this. They're the people who administer this grant and view services every day. People feel misled by the Welsh Government about the two-year protection—it's frankly not true. The only way that they could make it true is if they reinstated that distinct budget line for Supporting People with the £124 million. If they don't do that by the final budget in December, it isn't protected.
You've also got to look at the governance issues. It's taken us a while to get the governance of the Supporting People funding working well on a regional level, and that governance is just not in place for the other funding streams.
Thanks. Do you think that the culture of introducing small one-off pilot scheme exists in Wales? And if it does, do you think that it causes more harm than good?
Are you referring to pilot schemes at the end, when a bit—slippage money?
Absolutely. I think that whenever money is made available, providers, landlords, local authorities really want to make best use of it and try and come up with ways of running pilots. But, inevitably, it's those last maybe four, five months—you're not looking at that funding continuing far beyond that.
So, again, it links into the annual budget allocation. When it is based on an annual basis, they're not able to look more strategically at how that slippage money might be spent. They're suddenly thinking, 'We have to spend this by the end of the year. Quick, submit a proposal for a pilot proposal.' Sometimes, that uncovers some really exciting, new, innovative stuff, but a lot of the time it's scrambling around trying to find good use of money because you certainly don't want to spend money that is intended for homelessness and housing-related support sent back to Government. But definitely longer term funding would help us avoid problems like that. On behalf of the members, they'd welcome any extra funding that comes at any point in the year, but, certainly, a bit more long term would be helpful.
Thank you for the answer. What does the Welsh Government need to do to reach a well-informed decision on the future of Supporting People funding in the context of the recent proposal? And how much consultation has there been to date about the Welsh Government's proposals?
In the budget?
Okay. My understanding is that there was consultation with the seven local authorities that have got the 100 per cent flexibility for next year during the summer. There was no consultation with us, who represent all the landlords and providers within the sector, until a few weeks ago. So, we were really concerned with that. It felt like decisions had already been made, certainly about the seven pilot projects. While officials and Cabinet Secretaries tell us that no decisions have yet been made about year 2, the set-up of the budget certainly makes it look like they've pre-empted that decision and have already decided what direction they're moving in.
So, we work really well collaboratively with officials on many, many areas, and in particular on the supported accommodation review they've been extremely collaborative with us. But on this particular issue, it has felt like it's gone on behind closed doors during the summer and then has just come out through the detailed budget proposals.
I think one of the difficulties is that this isn't necessarily being led by the housing directorate. I think it's being led by communities and the tackling-poverty element of it. That has been a difficult process to deal with.
In answer to your question about what will help them make decisions: better evidence reflecting on the evidence from over the border in England. There's overwhelming evidence that you shouldn't remove that ring fence, and certainly you shouldn't be rushing in to making decisions about merging grants for year 2 without having assessed any impact, over at least a few years, of any pilot programmes.
And you are quite clear, Katie, that, without the ring fencing in the current model, in any form, then they cannot say that this is protected in a very real sense.
Absolutely not. In year 1, the 100 per cent flexibility that seven local authorities have over Supporting People, Families First, Flying Start and Communities First means that they have 100 per cent flexibility to spend that collective pot on whatever they want. There's only so much damage you can do within one year, and it's seven out of the 22 local authorities, but that's still not protected. And, in year 2, it absolutely isn't protected. Unless you have that certainty that a budget line exists and is ring-fenced and protected, if any questions remain about that, it is not protected. And local government seem very happy that they're going to be getting that flexibility. We're being told that no decisions have been made, but it is of huge, huge concern to the sector.
Massive concern. To relate it back to the previous question when we asked about consultation, generally, I would echo, absolutely, the consultation is generally very good between officials and our organisations—the supported housing review is a very good example of that. But, when you think that only a matter of weeks ago, we held an event, after the budget announcement, with providers to acknowledge that the Supporting People programme had been protected, I can absolutely say, categorically, that as we stood on the platform that day with politicians from both Plaid and Labour, we had no inclination that this was coming. So, I think that that says where we were in terms of consultation.
That's quite clear with regard to the level of consultation. Adam Price, did you want to come in?
As the person who negotiated the per cent clause in the said agreement, then, obviously, I view what you've said today with great seriousness and certainly I and my colleagues, I'm sure, will want to take that away and reflect further upon it. Because I think, subsequently, we were given some certain assurances that you'd been given certain assurances and that, obviously, doesn't appear to have happened.
I just wanted to ask on a point of detail for my understanding. We have the so-called pathfinder or pilot project in the seven local authorities, but a certain level of flexibility is going to be provided immediately to the remaining 15 local authorities. I mean, that, based on what you've said, must be a concern as well.
Absolutely. Yes, it's up to 15 per cent. So, yes, it absolutely is a concern. Obviously, not as much of a concern as the 100 per cent flexibility, but you're right, it does add to the sense that there isn't that level of protection that we were given assurances about.
In fairness, where the 5 per cent flexibility has existed up to now within the programme, my understanding is that the vast majority of that flexibility has meant more money eventually going into Supporting People services. So, that does sound a positive. I think, as we move to 100 per cent flexibility and merging grants together—here's the important thing: merging those grants together—that assurance doesn't really rest with me in the same way whatsoever.
There's been a process, so we've been able to actually scrutinise the virement before now. If it's one big pot, then that process won't be in place.
Am I right in thinking, as well as the concern that you've very clearly articulated about the reasons why, locally, maybe Supporting People might be under threat because of the dynamics around that, but, at a national level, is it also a concern that simply not having a budget line would make it very, very difficult to marshal the kind of campaign that you and your sector have done very effectively? We've had budget agreements, I think, at least four times that have had to come to the defence, at least for a cash standstill, in terms of the Supporting People budget. Well, if there isn't a budget line, then what are you actually pointing to?
The transparency and accountability for where that funding ultimately goes and what it is spent on around priorities disappears. And, yes, I think you're absolutely right, from a campaigning perspective, it's much more difficult to campaign for a programme that doesn't have a specific budget line and we can't see the outcomes and that transparency straight through.
Yes, absolutely, and it feels to me that Ministers have decided that they no longer want to be held accountable for this spending. And, a Welsh Government that supposedly prides itself on standing up for the most vulnerable and delivering social justice, then, actually, you want to be able to hold them to account on that, and Supporting People, for me, is one of the key programmes within the context of vulnerability and social justice. So, I think that it has been difficult over the past few years, that we've held them to account very effectively over it, with colleagues in other parties, and that they don't want to be held to account anymore. That's really disappointing for Wales and the Welsh Government as a whole, in terms of the transparency and accountability that this institution wants to pride itself on, because it will be almost impossible to track it, and we will not be able to hold anyone to account anymore.
Just finally, if I may, Chair, you're all professionals of many years' standing, working in this field in terms of policy engagement, the Welsh Government obviously has its hypothesis, which is that creating this flexible fund, bringing the five funds together, is going to have a positive impact. Would you normally expect for a hypothesis to be put up like that, which could have a significant impact? The normal process would be at least a consultation paper, a White Paper setting out the rationale, so that people in the sector could comment, the existing evidence could be tested, and if there was a decision then to do a pilot, again, things like the timing of that pilot and the appropriate evidential base, we'd have time to do that. You don't announce a major policy change like this in the fine detail of a budget.
Absolutely agree, yes.
Completely. We're not averse to discussing how funding could be spent better. Where there is efficacy in merging pots and commissioning differently, we're absolutely up for that conversation. We want to do the best for the people that we serve. But, to make policy decisions without evidence, I think, is worrying.
It feels like a very blunt instrument, because it's well known that, in the sector, as you rightly say, we've campaigned every year. It's an annual budget. We come out in force. We're proud of the sector, there's some fantastic work going on in the sector every day that we think is of huge benefit to Wales. But we know that we have to modernise and look to the future, so we are open to that. We're quite a mature sector, I think, in the Supporting People world and the housing sector to have those conversations. But it has to be the right decision and it has to be thought through.
Some early mapping of overlaps between those programmes showed that there wasn't really an obvious connection between those programmes. What a lot of people might have thought: 'Oh, yes, they look like they would really fit well together'—it didn't show that up. So, I think the timing of this is really worrying and the fact that you wouldn't even be able to—the ink wouldn't be dry on an evaluation—consider it before you were setting the budget for the following year, means that it puts our services in a very vulnerable position.
And the reality is that in the budget for year 2, in the detailed budget proposals, there is a, I think, £13 million cut to that merged grant overall. We're very sceptical about how much money can be saved by getting rid of bureaucracy by bringing those together, and we are concerned that, over time, it will be used as an excuse for allocating cuts and that the impetus will be on local authorities and providers to find those savings where they can't really be found by bringing the grants together. So, that element worries us as well, that bringing the grants together makes it easier to cut.
As Stuart said, we're absolutely ready to engage constructively in conversations about grant alignment. We just think that SP doesn't belong in that group. It absolutely belongs with things like the homelessness prevention grant and the supported accommodation money from Westminster. I was in a meeting about this the other day with people from Families First, Flying Start and Communities First, and there is just no recognition of homelessness, housing-related support and non-families, which is what a lot of the Supporting People programme supports. That isn't the focus for those people in the world that they operate in. No-one in the sector can make any sense of putting Supporting People with those other programmes.
You are painting a deeply worrying picture, which is the information we need to know in order to form our opinions, but from the moment that you started talking earlier, it seems that, across all fronts, there is a lack of transparency. Has that been particularly the case with this budget compared with previous budgets, so you really have noticed a deterioration?
Yes, I think the way that they presented the budgets this year, in doing the draft outline one, meant that many people had questions to ask, and if your particular area of interest wasn't highlighted in the budget deal, then you didn't really have a clue what was happening to it until the detailed budget was proposed. In our case, we thought we had an idea of what was happening to it, as I'm sure Adam did, within the draft outline budget and then found out all sorts of information much later on in the day through the detailed budget. So, I don't think it is a particularly helpful way of presenting the budget, because I think it probably leaves more questions in those three weeks between the outline and the detailed budget. I'm not sure that's helpful to anyone, really.
That's useful to know. Very briefly—sorry, Adam, have you finished? Yes. Very briefly, Oscar, then I need to bring Neil Hamilton in.
It’s on the costing. How can you achieve, or how can you explain, the transparency of costings for the future? That is the area you just mentioned. There is no transparency of accountability—I just heard Stuart saying so. So, how can you achieve it? What is your proposal on that one, the costings for the future?
The budget line remains as the Supporting People budget. The accountability is lost when you throw it in with Flying Start, Families First, Communities First and the employability grant, because within that merged budget you have no idea how much is being spent on homelessness and housing-related support. The only way that you can maintain that accountability is by having that specific budget line, and therefore being able to hold Ministers to account.
Separate budget lines, yes. Thanks. Neil Hamilton.
All Governments do of course pay lip service to the principle of evidence-based decision taking, although upon deeper inquiry, usually what the Government says is evidence turns out to be propaganda. But in this particular instance, there doesn’t really seem to be the evidence in existence on which they can make a decision, and the auditor general has actually been critical in his report of the Welsh Government’s arrangements for monitoring and evaluation of the success or otherwise of the Supporting People programme. He says that they’ve been slow in putting a system of evaluation in place in the first place and still don’t have a good enough understanding of the impact of Supporting People to enable sensible decision making to be made, which I think is a serious indictment as a matter of principle.
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of what we’ve got as a system for monitoring and evaluating the programme at the moment, and what needs to be done in order to make it more robust? Because, obviously, if any Government is going to choose between different options as to how to spend the limited resources available, you have to be able to compare one programme of expenditure with another. If you can’t say that Supporting People has produced these outcomes rather than those that other people can put forward as justifying their claims, then you’re disadvantaged, aren’t you?
I think it’s very difficult to compare outcomes between SP and some of the other programmes that are in the merged grant because they’re entirely different client groups in many instances, based on different kinds of outcomes. Indeed, I think Flying Start is more about outputs and numbers and ratios of support elements or health visitors, et cetera, compared to the outcome focus in Supporting People. I think that the SAIL data linkage is of huge value, because that is hard data, in numbers, of anonymised entries, of use of health services, that aren’t subjective. So, when that project is complete, we should have some really robust data to reflect on.
I think that, as I described before, since the outcomes collection started in Supporting People, the number of outcomes collected has increased year on year, and we’re able to look at outcomes on homelessness, on managing money, on physical and mental health, on safety and well-being and communities, and engagement in education, employment and work, and all of those show that, on average, over 58 per cent of service users in each of those categories show positive outcomes in those areas. That’s really important because, if you think about the vulnerabilities and the complex needs of clients within the Supporting People programme, they’ve often faced multiple traumas at young ages. They’ve been in and out of the criminal justice system, have severe mental health problems, often substance misuse problems, and to achieve positive outcomes in any of those is quite something. It appears to me that, although the outcomes collection is far from perfect, it is showing some positive impact, and the sector is committed to working together to improve that and make it more robust. I would say that some of that is more open and transparent and meaningful than some outcomes for other programmes.
One of the things that the housing sector is looking at is how to measure the social value of the work we do. We have a tool called HACT, and we could use the outcomes that we collect as evidence to put into that tool to come out with a cashable value. That might be easier, then, to compare with other objectives of other schemes, and to actually understand exactly what is the value that we’re getting out of the interventions that we’re putting in place to prevent and to support the most particularly vulnerable people in our society?
One of the problems you've got, I suppose, is very often you're trying to prove a negative, in a sense—how many people are not going to reoffend and go to prison or how many people are going to be kept out of hospital, et cetera. By definition, you can't prove that conclusively so you have to make inferences from the subjective evidence that you take.
And maybe the impact of the work we do today we won't see for 10 years, when people are living longer and healthier and making more out of their lives and adding to the economic value of the work that they do.
And the SAIL project does look at interactions with health services 12 months before the support intervention and 12 months after, so it does try and look at what previous patterns of use were before the crisis hit or before the intervention came in. So, I think that's a positive element of that, and we'll hopefully look at some areas beyond health in future years of the programme.
We're certainly as an organisation looking to commission some research into the impact of the Supporting People programme, and we've been in conversations with the funder about that for the past few months. What we weren't expecting was for all of the funding stream to disappear overnight in year 2 of the budget. As you've outlined, you would expect significant consultation and evidence gathering, particularly on an issue where all of the evidence that does exist tells you not to do that.
So, you seem to be favourably inclined towards the new outcomes framework that the Welsh Government has proposed as addressing some of the current problems. Am I right in inferring that from what you've said? Was there something that they're still missing? Is there anything else you'd like to see done that is not proposed to be done?
I think there were mixed responses to some of the proposals within the outcomes consultation, but I think the sector were confident that they could work collaboratively with officials to work through some of those issues. I think that front-line staff who were recording the outcomes would like less bureaucracy, so the suggestion in the outcomes consultation of some sort of data collection system rather than filling out loads of spreadsheets would be really positive, but there were still questions about how that might be funded or not.
But I certainly think that clearer guidance for providers around how to note down those outcomes would be important. I think one of the criticisms previously has been that it can sometimes be subjective as to at what point you put the person on the scale in terms of the progress that they've been making. So, I think clearer direction for providers would be useful.
And I think also for the service user themselves to be able to evaluate their own outcomes, and to actually be able to give that feedback of how they feel and not how maybe their support worker feels the improvement has gone.
Stuart, in your written evidence you said that:
'Members report detrimental effects on staff of the heavy burden of monitoring which is currently expected of them.'
Would you like to expand upon that on a bit?
I think Enid is better placed than I am, actually, to talk about some of that impact on staff turnover.
You've got to remember that the staff who are our support workers, they do their job because they love to see the difference that they make. They've got big hearts, and what they want to be out doing is to be out there supporting people. And what we ask them to do is to fill forms and collect outcome data, and for some of them they just don't want to do that and so they walk away and find other jobs where they feel that they're making more of a difference all the time.
It's difficult to gauge quite how severe this burden is in terms of time. How much time do people spend doing these things?
One of the things that my company's done recently is we've invested in iPads for the support workers, which is a huge outlay, really, that we have to fund ourselves. And we're devising forms where you can actually just touch the screen to collect the data so that you don't have to write on papers, and then go back into the office and then type it in again, so it's all more streamlined. But I'm lucky to be working in a company that is putting digital first and we've got that infrastructure. A lot of the other providers, they'll be quite small and they wouldn't be able to provide that management overhead to actually manage that kind of project.
I think we are very committed to demonstrating the outcomes. So, again, my company has invested a lot in a new management information system so that the outcomes can be put on an iPad and uploaded really quickly, and they can be done face to face with the client. And there's a client portal, so they can go on and talk about their own progress. But we've been lucky enough to do that. We actually developed the database, and we're supporting some other providers to take a look at it and see if it would work. And we're also talking to commissioners, so that we can link it up with the local authority databases. So, I think people are very committed to kind of keep on working with the outcomes. It's not an exact science; it does need improvement. But we are working very closely with Welsh Government, and in our own companies, to try and make those improvements. I think, sometimes, it feels, as well as measuring how far people have come, they don't actually measure the sort of softer outcomes in some regards that we see every day, the huge progress that people make, and it's quite hard to capture that in hard outcome data, but it's what we have, and it's what we need to work with, and it's a step in the right direction.
One of the things we've been doing is inviting Assembly Members to see our schemes, and you've been to see the schemes, and our local Assembly Members have been to see our schemes, and everybody walks away thinking, 'Oh, wasn't that wonderful work you're doing? You're making a difference.'
When we look at the measures of outcomes and the data that we're collecting, one of the things that we hear reported to us quite frequently—and if we're talking about transparency—is that I think providers are quite unclear actually how some of the monitoring and outcome data is ultimately used to inform the decision making about programme expenditure and contract monitoring. And, again, if you're a provider, I would suggest that that look-through as to how local authorities are commissioning services and are using that data to decide on commissioning decisions, would be very, very helpful.
And I think we've seen an increase in that from some areas where they've tabled outcome monitoring data at RCC meetings, or in discussions with local providers, but, again, that's variable across the board.
The update to the north Wales strategic plan that we're working on at the moment contains a lot of the outcomes data, and it shows in that plan how it's used to prioritise the services, and also the needs mapping data is there as well, and it cross-checks to make sure that the outcomes and the needs seem to be saying the same story. And that will be available to Welsh Government when we publish that in the new year.
Right. We are entering the last lap, the last few minutes now, five minutes or so. Vikki Howells, do you have some questions?
It's okay, thank you, Chair; all of the questions I wanted to ask have been answered.
Did anyone else have any further questions? Okay. One further question from me, then, a general question to end, really, on how you're able to assess the relative value for money of services on a transparent basis, while recognising the difficulty of like-for-like comparisons. Who wants to take that? Katie.
I think we can reflect on research that's taken place across the UK on the cost-benefit of Supporting People services. Of course, it's not an exact science; assumptions are made about use of services, or, as pointed out, not using some services as a result of the impact. But, in every case that I've looked at from Wales, England and Northern Ireland, there's at least £1.68 of savings for every £1 that's spent, and that's the lowest return. A lot of the other areas show much, much more. Recent work by The Wallich, which was again small scale, but was an example of some of the cases that they take on, found that £2.99 was saved for every £1 that they invested.
I think that that's all very positive, and that's quite consistent in terms of showing added value. As I said, we'd like to conduct more research into that. We would, of course, like Welsh Government to do that, but, bearing in mind the capacity issues that they have, we're looking to invest in some research to try and give a more credible perspective of that, using things like data linkage projects for health, but also some of the criminal justice interaction. I think it's absolutely crucial, because those of us working in the sector see every day the transformative impact. In many cases, it saves lives. I'm not using that lightly. When I spoke to the 170-odd service users back in January, I was—. I knew that the programme saved lives, but the number of people who said that it had saved their life kind of blew me away, and the use of health, criminal justice, social care, safeguarding issues that were resolved as a result of Supporting People absolutely blew us away. So, we know that that impact is there, but we absolutely agree with the auditor general, with you, that more research needs to be done, and we need to make sure that's as robust as possible. We're not scared of evidencing impacts, because we know it transforms lives. We just want to make sure we've got the tools to do it, so that we can give you the evidence that you need, as well as Ministers too.
Great. Thank you. Can I thank you for your evidence today—Katie Dalton, Enid Roberts, Stuart Ropke and Rhian Stone? That's been incredibly helpful—I think I speak for all Members in saying that. And thank you for your clarity and your own transparency. I'm thinking we will discuss this afterwards, but I think that, as well as our report, there are some questions that we need to pose to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance at the earliest opportunity, during the budget-setting process, to see if some of the concerns that you've raised as a group can be factored into the budget setting, and, hopefully, a different course can be taken, or at least some tweaks can be made along the way, to try and make sure that some of the problems that you've identified can be alleviated.
Thank you for your—. Oh, we will send you a transcript of today's proceedings before it's published, for you to ratify. Thank you.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, to meet in private for item 5 of today's meeting. Thanks.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:31.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:31.