National Assembly for Wales

Back to Search

Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus

Public Accounts Committee

27/11/2017

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Adam Price AM
Mohammad Asghar AM
Neil Hamilton AM
Nick Ramsay AM
Rhianon Passmore AM
Vikki Howells AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Angela Lee Pwyllgor Cydweithredol Rhanbarthol Gwent
Gwent Regional Collaborative Committee
Elke Winton Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Torfaen
Torfaen County Borough Council
Huw Vaughan Thomas Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office
Matthew Mortlock Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office
Naomi Alleyne Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Nigel Stannard Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd
Newport City Council
Sam Lewis Pwyllgor Cydweithredol Rhanbarthol Gwent
Gwent Regional Collaborative Committee

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Fay Bowen Clerc
Clerk
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Meriel Singleton Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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 14:01.

The meeting began at 14:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

I welcome Members to today's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Headsets are available for translation and sound amplification. Can Members please ensure that phones are on silent? In an emergency, follow directions from the ushers. We've received one apology today, from Lee Waters. There are no substitutes. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point? No. 

2. Papurau i'w Nodi
2. Papers to Note

Item 2. We've got some papers to note. First of all, the minutes from the meeting held on 20 November. Are you happy with the minutes? Okay. 

Secondly, we've received some additional information from Sport Wales following their evidence session with the committee, which we considered and noted on 9 October. Following that discussion, Sport Wales did say they would send some further information, which they've done. Are you happy to note that paper? Good.

Also, the arts council have sent additional information following their evidence session with the committee on 6 November. Do any Members have any comments or questions about that? Rhianon Passmore.

Chair, if I may, just to state that I remain dissatisfied in terms of the provision for NEETs that was discussed at the last meeting, in regard to the less than a third of schools across Wales that are being dealt with in terms of provision around deprivation through arts programming, and in terms of there being nothing systemic that is reaching out to all pupil referral units across Wales—I find that disturbing. And also in terms of the data; there is no accountability in terms of NEETs that's being provided for within this. I would just like that to be noted.

Sure. It is a concern, and it's a point well made.

We have also received some additional information from the National Library of Wales following their evidence session on 6 November. Are you happy to note that?

Also, the Permanent Secretary has replied to my letter in terms of additional information on the challenges of digitalisation. Paragraph 4 of the letter advises that Julie James, the Leader of the House and Chief Whip, has responsibility for digital matters and is willing to appear before the committee. We aren't normally an avenue for Ministers, because obviously we deal with the civil servants, so I propose, if you're accepting of this, that we recommend the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee take this on, but keep us up to date with developments. Are you happy with that approach? Good.

The Permanent Secretary has also written to me advising that, following the recent recruitment exercise, Tracey Burke and Andrew Slade have been appointed as directors general in the Welsh Government. Are Members happy to note that letter and agree to holding a joint introductory session with them, now that they're in position, in the new year, to touch base? Great. 

3. Maes Awyr Caerdydd: Y Wybodaeth Ddiweddaraf gan Lywodraeth Cymru
3. Cardiff Airport: Update from the Welsh Government

Okay, on to the substantive—. We have to wait one moment yet, because item 3 is the Cardiff Airport update from the Welsh Government. We received an update on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the previous committee report on the Welsh Government's acquisition of Cardiff Airport. It was noted that good progress was being made on some of the recommendations, and Members agreed to receive a further update in late autumn. Auditor general, did you have some comments you wanted to make on this?

Yes. The area that the Government indicates remains open is that of the appointment of an external board member on Holdco. Just to be clear, the recommendation was, from the previous PAC, that Holdco should appoint a board member from outside the Welsh Government with appropriate business experience, and that backed up a report from the Welsh Government's own internal audit service in early 2014, which the Government said it would review by August 2014. When we repeated it in our report—the recommendation—the written response from the Welsh Government in September 2016 said that the process would be complete this year. In November 2016, they came and gave oral evidence and said that the appointment process for the external Holdco board member was under way. As at the date of this letter, no announcement has been made about membership. I just draw attention to the very slow process of acquiring an external board member.

14:05

I think you're going to complete the audit of the accounts by the end of next month—

No. This is Holdco, the internal bit that holds the airport to account. From my own standpoint as auditor general, I do intend that we should look, in the early part of next year, at how Cardiff Airport is progressing in terms of its intentions, and to see how it's conforming to its business models.

It's rather troubling, really, as to why there should be such a level of procrastination on the appointment of this external board member. I can't think possibly why there is this delay, but it's an important question to ask the Welsh Government, surely.

Yes. I was going to suggest that we do write to the Welsh Government for clarification, and if Members are happy with that course of action, we can also look at updates in 12 months' time. But I think there are grounds for us to ask the Welsh Government what is going on. Neil Hamilton.

It's difficult to see quite what problem there might be. An appointment of this kind is pretty routine, I would've thought, so perhaps they could explain why it's taking so long.

What role and function is this person meant to be responsible for, and, therefore, what is currently not being done?

It's not so much that it's currently not being done, because it is already a Holdco organisation. But we drew attention to the fact that Holdco, at the time, was structured mainly from the civil service, and we felt that some external insight would be useful at that level. That was a recommendation of their own internal audit, as I said, in 2014, and the Welsh Government accepted it would do it. But it has just been slow in doing it.

Yes, that's what I was going to propose that we do—without putting too fine a point on it. Okay, that's settled. Thanks, Huw.

4. Rhaglen Cefnogi Pobl Llywodraeth Cymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2
4. The Welsh Government’s Supporting People Programme: Evidence Session 2

Moving on to item 4 and our inquiry into the Supporting People programme. This is the second evidence session for the committee's inquiry into the Welsh Government's Supporting People programme. The evidence sessions are scheduled to end by Christmas, with the Welsh Government attending in January 2018. The committee's consultation opened on 15 November and ends on 22 December. Should Members identify any additional witnesses from that exercise, then let me know and we can factor those in.

I have welcomed our witnesses. Can I welcome you again? Can I also apologise for the temperature in this room? There is an issue with the heating, which we are trying to resolve, but it is equivalent to the heat of a sauna in here, which is why I've disrobed. Would you like to give your names, positions and organisations for our Record of Proceedings?

I'm Elke Winton. I'm the group manager for housing in Torfaen County Borough Council. Supporting People sits within the housing service.

Naomi Alleyne, director of social services and housing at the Welsh Local Government Association.

I'm Nigel Stannard. I'm Supporting People lead officer for Newport City Council and I chair the Supporting People information network, the national lead officers' group for Wales.

Great. Thank you for being with us today. If I can kick off with the first questions: has the Welsh Government's response to all of the policy changes and legislation affecting the programme been adequate, in your opinion? Elke.

I think there's a varied response to that question. There are so many policy changes that influence the Supporting People programme in Wales, for example the plethora of Acts that have come through—the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014—welfare reforms and a number of other initiatives and pieces of legislation and policy that affect the Supporting People programme. I think the role that Welsh Government have had—. We, for example, regularly receive bulletins from the Supporting People national advisory board, which are quite lengthy, actually, but by the very nature of the programme being cross-cutting, around housing and homelessness, it also gives reference to all the other policy debates and intentions ongoing.

Another example, for example, is the supported accommodation review that's taking place. There's a steering group set up by Welsh Government that is looking across that piece of work and what's going to happen in Wales. So, there's a lot of communication that comes from Welsh Government. I suppose the question is, sometimes, the nature of that very wide and varied communication. Sometimes it can seem like it dilutes the programme because it is cross-cutting. So, do we communicate that widely or do we keep it more crisp and salient around the reduction of homelessness and improving independence? It's a bit of a 'yes and no' answer, really, if that makes sense.

14:10

Thank you. I think, as Elke said, with many of those changes that have been made, they're still in the process of being implemented as well, as we talk, so they do come at different stages, and obviously, we need to be aware of them and respond to them. I think one of the issues is that still, obviously, some of the Welsh Government departments can operate in a silo base. Sometimes local authority departments do. So, we need to make sure that the opportunity and the value of Supporting People services is understood by other parts of Welsh Government as well, so that, in terms of their guidance and linkages, they can refer to the appropriate Supporting People services. But I think it's a challenge we've got to continually make, particularly around the preventative agenda, particularly around the join-up of the agendas and the aims and the objectives that we have. So, it's work in progress, but I think there's always the need for ongoing communication and understanding about the different programmes.

I was going to ask you that. Are there any ways that you could suggest that the Welsh Government could communicate the priorities better?

I think it is about ensuring that other departments in Welsh Government are communicating through their different changes as well. I think the housing department has been very good at keeping the sector informed about the changes and how that will impact, but not necessarily some of the other areas, ensuring that the advice or guidance or strategies that come from those other policy areas also reference the opportunities and the impact that the Supporting People services could have. So, I think it's a dual approach, but again, a work in progress.

Before I bring other Members in, what would you say are the key implications for the programme of the UK Government's proposals in the recently published consultation on funding of supported housing? Elke Winton.

Obviously the consultation gives more credence, to some effect, to English Government and English policy. In Wales already, as I mentioned, a steering group has been set up to look at that piece of work. And, obviously, whatever budget is devolved to Welsh Government in, potentially, 2020, there's a long lead-in period for the sector and Welsh Government to have a really good look at what that could look like for 2020. So, there's a lot of work going on at the moment to try and identify a funding model and options around how that devolved budget could look. I suppose the main consideration is around short-term supported accommodation, whereby, obviously, if the longer-term sheltered extra-care provision and longer-term supported housing still sits within the welfare benefits set-up, it's how is Welsh Government going to grapple short-term accommodation, which is a big consideration for Wales given roll-out of full service universal credit, and how people move through those services and we make sure that they're sustainable into the future.

That was a very helpful answer. We took evidence from Cymorth Cymru—I think it was last week—and they were very concerned that there wasn't adequate protection of budgets as well, and that a degree of ring-fencing, however you might want to do that, would help and give security. Would you have a view on that?

The terms of that for the supported accommodation changes as a result of the welfare reforms—the terms of how that will be developed and administered across Wales are yet unknown, as we know. If you're talking about any of the other funding streams, such as the funding flexibility programmes of work, there are other conversations around that as well. Is it specifically the supported accommodation?

No, they had wider issues about ring-fencing. They weren't saying that ring-fencing was the be-all and end-all, but they said that there needed to be some type of security with those budgets.

I think other Members are keen to come in. I'll bring Neil Hamilton in first.

The concern was that, because of the ending of ring-fencing, housing now has to compete with non-housing elements in this area as well. So, that obviously implies some risk that there would be less money going into housing and more into something else. So, that's the key worry.

14:15

Absolutely. You just have a look across the border at England to see what happened to the Supporting People programme over there when the ring fence was taken off—it was just lumped into the LAA. Supporting People has been decimated, refuges are closing, et cetera. So, I think ring-fencing and hypothecating the grant is essential.

I think the issue around the review—. It seems to me, in England, they're reinventing the Supporting People programme, because the short-term stuff will be around better planning, better commissioning, which is what we've got in Wales anyway. So, one solution could well be that it comes to local authorities—this lump sum, this grant—and it's administered alongside or as part of the Supporting People programme grant. To us that would make a lot of sense.

If you have property-related costs and accommodation schemes and refuges, hostels, et cetera, you need to know the total cost of running that scheme. We know the revenue funding, we know the housing benefit elements, but other elements of funding go into those schemes as well. So, I think it would make it a lot more secure if we were aware of the funding in the total of the schemes to put it on a stronger footing. The other issue of course is, yes, we could get a lump sum, but what happens in the future? Would it be protected? Will it be uplifted? Will it be inflation-proof and so on, in the future, if we need to develop new schemes, new extra-care schemes and so on?

The witnesses that we saw last week made exactly the point you did there about the effect of the changes across the border in England. They were fearful that we could have similar consequences here. Naomi.

Can I just add? There are two separate issues and we do need to separate them out. One is around the ring-fencing of the Supporting People grant that comes now, and then the second is obviously what is proposed following the accommodation review. So, in the document from DCLG, it talks about potentially ring-fencing the money that would come for the supported accommodation review funding, and obviously that's a conversation that we will continue to have with Welsh Government as we move forward. But it's difficult to compare the situation in Wales to the situation in England so starkly, because it is very different.

In Wales, particularly following the Aylward review, so at least the last five years, there's been a lot of discussion, a lot of debate, and a lot of change around the Supporting People programme that has been based on co-production and working with people across the sector. In England, it was a decision that was made to devolve the money straight to local authorities. There's no framework per se, as we have in Wales, around the Supporting People programme, which is why, through the accommodation review, and as Nigel says, they're putting some of the structures in place, which are already in place.

So, I think it's very difficult to compare those. If the ring-fencing of the Supporting People grant goes, we'll lose control and we'll get onto those questions around funding flexibility. The issue around whether you ring-fence the funding that could come for short-term accommodation under the review, I think, is a separate issue and we are yet to have discussions with Welsh Government—detailed discussions—around how that will work in practice.

So, in that regard, and bearing in mind the two separate areas' work streams, what do you think should occur, bearing in mind the context in England and the current live state of play? What would be the optimum system in Wales, from your perspective?

For the accommodation review or Supporting People?

Well, in terms of the Supporting People programme, we are in support of the funding flexibilities project. We think that there can be more efficiencies and reduced bureaucracy and improved outcomes achieved through that. In terms of the accommodation review, we haven't got a position per se on that, because there are a lot of factors as we get onto the funding aspects that we'll need to take into account, because if there is the redistribution, that will have an impact. The key concern must be around not destabilising the market and the delivery of services across the piece.

So, when we look at what will come and the discussions that are taking place around the funding flexibilities, it is important that we highlight the importance of Supporting People and ensure that the structures are in place to ensure that we can monitor the spend and achieve the outcomes. But, in terms of the accommodation review, we haven't had those conversations.

No. And in regard to lessons that we can learn, even at this state of play in terms of England at this moment in time, have you got in your head a clear vision of what would be bad for Wales?

Not really. Elke's been more involved in some of the funding flexibility.

In relation to the supported accommodation review—the DCLG exercise we just mentioned—I suppose what the optimum best outcome for me would be that the funding that comes through to Wales as a devolved pot would be safeguarded for supported housing. So, as Nigel mentioned earlier, the Supporting People programme being the revenue programme of funding that pays for the support—a really essential element for fixed-site supported housing and, in particular, the short-term types of provision, such as refuges and hostels—to make sure that funding is still covering the rents of those properties would be an optimum, in my view, and the best scenario. Because as providers of those services, if the rental and the landlord functions can't be fully covered, they're not going to be financially viable as services, and that's got a big impact on the sector. Supported fixed-site and short-term supported accommodation are really valued and really important, obviously, in prevention and as help for people who have gone through homelessness services. So, they sort of go hand in hand: the revenue funding stream of Supporting People alongside the changes as a result of the welfare reforms and the housing benefit cost changes.

14:20

And, I think—just very quickly—I think one of the lessons that we would wish to learn is to ensure that the appropriate amount of funding comes across; that there's not a reduction in the funding from the UK Government. We have had, unfortunately, some of that funding devolved—not necessarily in SP—previously where there have been cuts. So, it's important the right amount of funding comes across and is devolved to our settlement.

Thank you, Chair. My direct question to the panel is—good afternoon to you all: would you say that the draft strategy objective that the Welsh Government consulted on recently provides sufficient clarity about the programme's core purposes? What do you think about that?

Perhaps it could be more salient around the reduction of homelessness in some of the objectives, but I think, generally across the sector, the objectives that were outlined well-represent the programme. It's almost the audience it's pitched at as well, so for people, maybe, outside of the sector—. Because the programme is so cross-cutting, it's about, and members of the public—. For me, it's how members of the public receive the objectives and feel that they actually recognise the services that are provided to them through those objectives.

So you're saying the cost cutting is not giving the right objectives achieved there? That's what you're saying: that the cost cutting is there.

I think there's a responsibility to constantly seek value for money and efficiencies and efficacy through services. So I think that's important too, and I think for people receiving services that's important as well, because the more we can do that, the further we can spread services so that more people can access them as well. So, it's about the language we use and how we pitch that language depending on the audience. So, I suppose that's a bit of a dilemma for Welsh Government as well, around the objectives of who's actually reading those objectives and how they translate.

How is Newport City Council, you know, looking into it, the core objectives?

We have regular meetings with cabinet members in the city, with my head of service, so we appraise our cabinet member on a fairly regular basis on the programme. It's a complex one, because you have the Welsh Government and their aims, objectives and priorities on the one hand and we have local authorities, with their aims, priorities and objectives on the other hand. So, in a sense, the Supporting People lead officer is in a difficult position: he sits in the middle between Welsh Government, sometimes the WLGA—we may not see, as lead officers, absolutely the same view as the WLGA—and local members. So, it's a complex area. Of course, we've got scrutiny committees and so on that we will attend and do reports to as well. Mainly, reports go from our planning group as well, which has heads of service, cross-cutting members from housing, social services and so on, who take that back to their respective cabinet members as well. So, eventually, and by osmosis almost, but the flexibilities programme has almost forced local authorities to look across the piece, across the service areas, more closely about the programme. Because it affects where Families First, Flying Start, Communities First, Supporting People sit, and they tend to sit with different cabinet member portfolios. So, that's pulling it together, so we'll have a lot more conversations, a lot more decisions and priorities and discussions around the programmes—all four of them, not just Supporting People.

14:25

I think it obviously links back. From our point of view, we welcome the draft strategic objectives, but they also, as Elke says, demonstrate or reflect the evolving nature of the programme. So, if you take the,

'Avoiding or mitigating the effect of adverse childhood experiences',

for example, probably a year ago that wouldn't have been there as a strategic objective. Because following the work that Public Health Wales have done and the work and the focus on adverse childhood experiences, it's got a much higher profile and they're included and you can understand why they're included. But it doesn't reflect, I think, just the evolvement—continual evolvement—of the programme, which brings it back to that difficulty and the question at the start about how do you link up, about the impact the programme has across many different policy areas and how they're affected. So, I think that's just an example about the way the programme does evolve. Obviously, the teams need to respond to that evolution of the programme, but there is that risk that it can dilute without us making those effective prevention, early intervention links around the homelessness agenda. But I think they also give us the opportunity to not just look at how we prevent homelessness, but how we tackle more of the causes of homelessness. So, we can go further upstream in terms of addressing some of those issues by, again, working with others who've got similar and complementary objectives within their programmes as well.

Thank you for that reply. What impact do you see the proposed new objectives having on the programme, for example, on the focus of service delivery on the ground? I would like to ask the panel, especially on the two areas of homelessness and poverty in your regions or your counties.

On tackling poverty and homelessness?

What we really need in Supporting People is clear objectives for the programme. The programme was born out of homelessness. It was born out of the—I'm going right back here—Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, where we did not have enough supported accommodation so we then developed a whole programme around a hostel deficit grant and hostels and refuges and so on. It's always been its raison d’être, in a sense, around homelessness.

Now, the Supporting People programme seems written into the housing Act. It is not written into the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 or into the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. It is not written into other Acts. You search for Supporting People in some of the programmes and the legislation and it's not in there—yet it is with housing and homelessness. So, I want a refocus of the programme around this particular area. The problem, and the response from my SP lead officers, is that it's being pulled this way and that way.

It has always done tackling poverty, but it's supposed to make a huge contribution to the tackling poverty agenda. It has always done work with 16 and 17-year-olds who have had adverse childhood experiences, so it works with them to basically put their lives back together, because of the consequences of their poor upbringings. So, it's always done these things. It was always, essentially, a homelessness project, so it's always done these things. Yet, it's told to refocus, add to this, do that, add to this agenda, contribute to that programme and so on. It is quite complex. Do we dissipate the programme so much that it just disappears and its value, what it's about, is lost? Or do we concentrate on, really, what its core activities are and develop it, and have those clear set objectives from Welsh Government and lead the programme forward?

We've always done tackling poverty. As I say, we have financial inclusion officers. Last year they realised nearly £0.25 million of additional benefits and reduction in debt for our Newport citizens. That's just one short example.

So, you're basically asking some fundamental questions about the way that the programme operates and what the Welsh Government wants it to achieve. 

Yes. It needs refocusing. 

I think Rhianon Passmore had a supplementary question.

Yes, you've actually gone into the area that I wanted you to go into. If I can just ask you then, in terms of the lessons that you think can be learnt from regional working over the past five years—and there has been mixed opinion and impact—I don't know what your perception is of that in terms of regional working.

14:30

We've always worked originally in Gwent. We were cited in the Aylward review as good practice. It was maybe out of necessity at the start, because, obviously, a new programme, new burdens, new funding for local authorities, a lone worker to start with, and building a team with additional new burdens funding over three years. So, it was almost a necessity. Five local authorities in Gwent, working together, with the officers ringing each other up—'I tell you, what are you doing around maximising the transitional housing benefit pot, Mal?' 'Oh, I'm doing this.' 'Oh, that's interesting; shall we get together?' And so it grew, organically almost, to such an extent that, in the end, we have the same practices across Gwent, from way back, not just in the last five years. I'm talking way back. The same evaluation process, the same needs mapping process et cetera, because our providers don't just work in Newport, they work across five and more local authorities, and it's a pain for them to have different methods, bureaucracy, forms and so on. We recognised that very early on. So, we not only have these officers working together, we then have our commissioning officers working together and so on. Now, we did this, without any real direction from the Welsh Assembly Government in the first place; we just thought it was the best use of our resources to maximise the pot and to produce a programme that was clear to all our providers on the ground.

We were the first area, basically, to employ our own regional officer. Before Aylward was a twinkling in anybody's eye, we had and funded a regional worker, because we could see the benefits of working together across the piece. When Aylward came out, we almost put a stop to the work we were doing. I must say, we had our own planning mechanism across the region as well. So, regional working in Gwent is not something new; we've always done it.

No, and I understand that, and it has been mixed, though, in terms of across pan-Wales. What is the Welsh Local Government Association view?

It's difficult, because, obviously, there are some benefits to be gained from working collaboratively and regionally, but Nigel and I go back to 2012, where I actually chaired the governance group following the Aylward review, which was looking at putting in the governance arrangements around regional collaborative committees, and very much learning the lessons that had happened in Gwent. I think some of the difficulty is that there's still not really a well-defined or well-narrated role for the RCCs in terms of roles and responsibilities.

So, right at the beginning, they were talking about how the RCCs can hold local authorities to account, how they can scrutinise that, how RCCs can make decisions on spend, but there were legal issues and requirements around the roles and responsibilities of local authorities that had to be taken into account in establishing the RCCs. So, the arrangements were complex—I could use lots of different words, but, they were complex and probably unclear, which means that the role of the RCCs in terms of promoting or enabling regional working does happen, but not at the pace and scale that I think was hoped, because people felt that, in certain ways, it had been forced together at the time, with very strict and prescriptive roles for the RCCs to undertake that didn't allow some of that innovation, some of that organic development around what those opportunities are.

I think there are still some issues around that lack of clarity with some of the RCCs—not necessarily the roles, but the responsibilities. The membership is still inconsistent in some areas, which, again, the development officers and the RCCs have tried to enable. But it does also feel that, as we move forward, in terms of funding flexibility, I'm not clear where the RCCs will sit with the other regional arrangements and national arrangements and how they'll all fit together.

Okay. So, you've strayed into some of my areas of questioning. In terms of the auditor general's report, he mentions, obviously, pooled budgets, the focus on local services, the different timelines of contracts in particular, barriers to Gwent. I was going to ask you, in terms of regional collaborative committees, how they'd be better aligned in terms of collaborative governance arrangements. I don't know whether you could answer that particular point as to how it could be improved on that particular area.

Not at the moment. I think it's something we need to consider, moving forward—what the role and relationship is between regional collaborative committees and the regional partnership boards under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, what the link will be to the regional groups established under the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, where this fits in in terms of—?

14:35

Just quickly, the Welsh Government have recently consulted, for example, on commissioning guidance for violence against women services, but you'll have commissioning guidance for Supporting People services. So, there's a lot at different levels that we need to make sure that they all align or are complementary to each other, because they come from different departments—

Well, I think it assists in the actual regional working or regional commissioning, and the join-up of some of those agendas.

I think there could be greater links possibly with the partnership boards, obviously mainly operating at a local level as well. So, there’s that consideration. But I think, regardless of the delivery model, whether it would be the RCC or whatever, there are obvious regional and sub-regional arrangements that have to be debated. So, when we talk about transient client groups, for example, and how people move across local authority boundaries, how we can commission services where there are small numbers of people so we can serve the population better by joint commissioning, how we look at different ways of collaboration and co-production with other organisations outside of local authorities so the provider and landlord, for example, health and public health representation on RCCs have been helpful in making sure there's that dialogue around the Supporting People programme. So, whatever the delivery model and the role of the RCCs in time to come, we still need to have regional and sub-regional conversations to make sure that we do our best with the very valuable resources that we’ve got.

And would you say currently that RCCs lack teeth? Would you say that they are?

I would say they do, because they're not a legal entity in their own right. They may have a memorandum of understanding. What is that? You know, a gentleman's agreement, a woman’s agreement or whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t have enough teeth in that respect, I would say.

Oscar, had you finished your line of questioning earlier as well? We went to Rhianon for a supplementary and I forgot to go back to you.

Only a little one. I think we have covered it a little bit already. What impact do you see the proposed new objectives having on the programme, for example on the focus of service delivery on the ground?

I'll repeat again. What impact do you see the proposed new objectives having on the programme, for example on the focus of service delivery on the ground?

It all depends on what the new objectives are, doesn’t it? Because if the new objectives are to redefine the programme, refocus the programme, then I suspect we’ll see a focus more on prevention of homelessness, early intervention and prevention across the piece—and that also refers to social services and well-being. So, we're looking at the IAA—the information, advice and assistance part of the social services and well-being Act. So, preventing people going to managed care.

Across the piece I would see more outcomes, better outcomes for people on the ground, and people knowing what they’re doing—we can flounder around a bit in the programme, we can pilot schemes that come off, and some don’t. So, I think, again, going back to what I said before, it comes from the top. Let's set the objectives properly and then we can try and put the measures in place to assess the outcomes and the impacts of the programme, based on those objectives. They have to be clear.

Thank you. Following on from Mohammad Asghar's question, just thinking about how these sorts of things have already impacted on service planning and delivery. We know that there's been a lot of unease in the sector about the annual budget, which has moved to a two-year budget now but there's still some uncertainty with regard to the ring fencing. So, what sorts of impacts does that have on a practical day-to-day level—those budget pressures and funding uncertainty that they have?

Annual funding is basically a big pain, to be honest. Even the Wales Office report said three year—recommended three-year funding. Now, that would give us a real opportunity to develop schemes, rather than piecemeal—to develop a scheme and review it properly over three years—'Does it work? Does it not?', Let’s run with it’, ‘Let’s not, let's nip it in the bud’. Annual funding is difficult when you have a programme where some schemes are delivered on time and others are not. So, you may well have a scheme with accommodation—a fixed-accommodation scheme. Things get delayed. You’ve budgeted for x. You come along and a scheme starts three months later: you have an underspend already. If your schemes are funded based on housing benefit, for example that's an eligibility criteria, then that fluctuates up and down. There are various ways you can underspend, so that’s a problem. In-year funding is a problem. So, you always have to have schemes on the shelf, little pilots, that you can pick off. We can add so many hours of support for that scheme because it has got a big waiting list. We can pilot with a neighbouring authority, that scheme, where we know there’s a pressure and where we know it’s a priority in their commissioning plans.

But that will mean you’re developing something for six months at a time or five months at a time. How do you recruit people in that time? It’s really difficult. You can urge providers to have a number of part-time workers. So, three part-time workers is probably better than one and a half full-time workers. Because you can approach those part-time workers and say, ‘Would you want to work additional hours?’ So, you can spend that money in-year. There’s always a fear of clawback from Welsh Government of underspent funding. We understand that. We want to utilise that. If we then spread that over an envelope of three years, yes, it doesn’t matter if you underspend in year 1 in that respect, because you can overspend in following years, and fully spend that grant allocation.

It has been difficult. It has been really difficult, to be honest. I mean, schemes will fold, naturally. Providers will come and say, ‘We don’t want to do that anymore. Here’s three months’ or six months’ notice’. ‘Quick—what do we do?’ We’ve got to spend that money. It is difficult to—

14:40

How has it affected continuity of care for service users as well?

In that respect, we will always look to work with other providers, initially, in the first place. So, if we’ve got similar schemes, both locally and regionally, we will look to work with that other provider to take over in a transitional period, slowly. It could be we TUPE across, but usually we transfer those across in a slow, transitional way. We’ve done it in Newport a couple of times when schemes have failed or they’ve decided, ‘We don’t want to work anymore on that project.’ So, we’ve had to work with the service users, and sometimes families, carers. It’s not easy to persuade them that we have a continuity of service, but they may be seeing someone different delivering their housing-related support. It’s not easy.

Yes, I think one of the key aspects of Supporting People teams is managing the sustainability of the Supporting People programme in the sector. So, within our commissioning plans, we’re always mindful of annualised budgets, or two-yearly budgets, and always preparing for potentially 5, 10, 15 per cent cuts. The reality of that is how it translates and how we manage our contracts with providers. Similarly, for the provider organisations themselves, it's around how they manage their finances. So, when we bear in mind that, with the majority of services, the funding pays for front-line staff, so that recruitment and retention of staff, that ongoing workforce development, is really materially key.

It’s almost as if local authorities take a leap of faith when we contract with providers. So we, for example, contract over longer periods of time than one year, but we’re always mindful that that could change year on year. So, we work really closely with the providers themselves to try and make sure that we provide as much assurance as we can through our contracts. As much as we can, we try and manage that workforce through our contracting arrangements so that we can retain staff in the organisations. So, for service users, obviously, if there’s a knee-jerk reaction year on year to commissioning decisions, that can materially affect the contracts that we have with our providers. Similarly, providers would probably say that there’s a leap of faith from their perspective as well in terms of how they anticipate budgets coming over year on year.

So, it's about that quite mature and sophisticated conversation we try and maintain, but it's always in the back of the commissioner's head, 'Where are we going to be with the budget next year? How do I try and have a limited negative impact on the provider market so that there's least negative impact on, obviously, service users?' So, it's part of the commissioning process, but the providers play a big part in that as well, and a number of the providers that work in the Supporting People programme are third sector organisations as well, so they don't necessarily have as large a level of investment going in as, for example, some other providers such as registered social landlords, who may have rental income as well. 

I'm not saying that subsidy cross funds, but we are working with some of the sector, so we try and encourage organisations to bid for other funding streams and other investment streams, so that they can maintain their levels of financial viability as much as possible. So, a big part of the commissioning function as well is sustaining those organisations and working with them on a no-surprises basis. But obviously, annualised budgets, especially when there are cuts, and sometimes cuts in real terms when levels of funding are maintained, are always prominent. And we find that the discussion with the providers probably builds in pace when we know that there may be cuts afoot, or we don't have the next year's budget figures. It's an ongoing, iterative discussion. 

14:45

That's why you see a rise in short-term contracts—pilots, and so on—in local authorities, out of necessity in a sense. We can't promise funding beyond x period of time, and that makes for not a very sustainable—

It must be incredibly frustrating to be working with those limitations. 

Moving on to the type of support that you're able to provide, obviously there are two models, really: there's the fixed support and the floating support. I've been very fortunate to go and visit—

There's a third: drop-in support. 

Right, okay. I've visited fixed and floating support services in my own constituency, and been really impressed to see they do cater for people with different needs at different times within that period of need, but there has been a noticeable change in the overall proportion of programme funds spent on floating and fixed support in Wales as a whole. I'd just like to gauge your opinion on why that change has come about and the reasons behind it.  

Shall I start? I think, initially, when the programme started, transitional housing benefit enabled fixed schemes to top up. It also enabled, for example, care homes, group homes to de-register to maximise the pot. So, you had a lot of supported living schemes and so on, so you had a lot of money allocated to fixed schemes as opposed to floating support schemes. I think the proportion was slightly 50:50 under on that. It's now more likely 60:40 floating to fixed, isn't it? I think one of the reasons is actually the reviewing of the schemes. So, you review a scheme like a supported living scheme, learning disabilities, enduring mental health, and you suddenly realise, 'Hang on a minute, this scheme is grossly overpriced. How much housing-related support is actually being delivered in this scheme?' You do an assessment and you actually find out it's a lot less than was put in as a speculative THB claim, which then transferred into the Supporting People grant, then the Supporting People programme grant. So, that released funding; it pulled funding out of certain sectors. So, what do you do with it? You have to work with your colleagues in the social housing grant department of your local authority, or other landlord providers that might put capital funding in to develop schemes. That takes time, which we know. It can take a lot of arguments, and sometimes with Welsh Government coming with planning and overruling local planning, and so on. It's really difficult to develop new supported housing schemes. 

I suspect you get better value for money, in a sense, or people seeing it as better value for money, with floating support than fixed schemes. So, the easiest and quickest way to commission a service is floating support. It is harder, longer, more complex to develop fixed scheme support. Those are some of the reasons I think why that's happened. And we've mentioned annual budgets. How can you develop a fixed scheme in three to six months? Almost impossible. All our pilots are floating support, basically. So, that's another reason why, if you've got underspend, it goes for floating not fixed. So, incrementally year on year, year on year you can see what's happening: fewer fixed schemes being developed. Yes, there have been some extra-care schemes out there developed and so on, but fewer supported housing fixed schemes have been developed because of that. They're difficult to do, they're complex. How do you time them with your budgets? They can be delayed et cetera. Complicated.

14:50

Hang on, Vikki. Elke, did you want to come in on that as well?

I was only going to add to that. I think it's sometimes the way we actually contract now with service providers and how that shows on supply mapping. So, to give an example: sheltered housing, where, traditionally, contracts for people receiving support would be tenure specific. So, we may have moved away from having tenure-specific sheltered housing support workers to peripatetic. So, those, as supported housing, still exist, but on our supply maps they show as floating support. So, we also contract in other ways where even shorter term supported housing still is in situ and is still being used, and sometimes we reference the accommodation within our contracts, but we have a more fluid, floating support workforce, which can serve those fixed sites but also go out into the community. So, again, it doesn't show up on the supply map as fixed accommodation.

That's very interesting. So, there is some overlap between the two, then. Okay. If I could ask you both as well, then: what have you done, through your local planning processes, to ensure that the financial support for your different client groups references their actual needs right here and now rather than historical patterns and trends?

I think you're absolutely right. Historically, it was those with the biggest voice and the biggest pocket, and shouted the most, who got the funding. So, you have a disproportionate number of providers, and you have a disproportionate client group getting the funding. So, we get that on 1 April 2003—Supporting People—and there we are. Those are your schemes in your local authority. What do you do? You look at the funding and you look at the number of schemes going in. It relies on a very robust planning process, in my opinion, which we do have in Gwent, I would say. It involves service users, we've got stakeholders, we have the Gwent needs mapping exercise's mapping forms, and we have reviews also. We can get a lot of information from the reviews, from service users, ex-service users, stakeholders, staff and so on. In the end, it's a big amalgam of that needs information that we get and hold in the teams. When we go out and we ask for proposals to come in where there's unmet need—and that can come from health, that can come from probation, that can come from social services, that can come from our partners, as well, that we already contract with—we then have to prioritise those in our planning groups. Out of that then come the new schemes that we can develop when we have the available funding.

If you look at Newport as one example, and if you looked at the table with all the 19 different client groups on in 2003, you'd probably see six of those client groups without any funding. Now, that's probably wrong anyway, because generic floating support will support people with chronic illness, HIV and whatever; it's just not the lead need, not specifically for them. But now you look at—. And we've got one area where we don't have any. So, we've remodelled and refocused, for example, refugee schemes in Newport. We've got three support workers now, and so on. So, we've looked, and all our client groups, including men with domestic abuse and so on, have funding going towards them. So, it's a robust planning process. It's the pilots that come in and test those gaps in provision, based on your needs mapping, to see if there really is the demand. We're not going to waste money—to see if there really is a demand—and out of that, over time—so, it's not a quick process—you'll begin to see a reshaping of your allocation across the client groups.

That's interesting again. So, there is a role for pilot programmes, then.

Yes. Absolutely. The classic is Gypsy/Traveller in Newport, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen. Recently—about three years ago—it was an idea coming out of the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments, where we were actually able to ask additional questions around support for this client group, and we did identify the need for floating support, but not, apparently, in Monmouth or Caerphilly—we'll pass that by for the moment; they don't exist there apparently—as we piloted it down the spine of Gwent. The demand is there, definitely, and the support such that we've increased the support workers by another post. We're now going to put that onto a full contract from next year. So, you're absolutely right: pilots are essential to test the demand, to test the need and the outcomes. 

14:55

I was going to add to what Nigel's already said really. It's the strength of the strategic planning around the Supporting People programme. As Nigel has mentioned, since 2003, when local authorities were originally developing Supporting People operational plans and undertaking supply and needs and gap analysis, everything from other strategic fora priorities, priorities within legislation, literature review but, in the main, I would say direct dialogue with service users through the needs mapping exercise—. So, it could be a health worker, a housing officer, a social worker. If they come into contact with somebody with a housing-related support need, they'll fill in the mapping exercise—there's a large database—and so we've got other people who are helping us understand need. Service reviews—when we go into services and assess the provision—will inform—. We've had direct feedback from service users. That informs the delivery models and the commissioning plans. It's an ongoing process that is developed locally also with the role of the local planning groups, and, I would say, with the regional collaborative committees, there has been strength, for example, in Gwent whereby they've looked at service provision across the localities and questioned, 'Why is there more of this type of service in that locality and less of this in that locality?' So, it's an ongoing planning cycle, which is always open, really.

Thanks, Vikki. Rhianon Passmore, did you have a supplementary question?

Just very briefly, in terms of the importance of the robust planning process, we've gone through all of those points. In regard to your comments, though, around floating versus fixed support, what needs to be done if we are to increase the amount of fixed support, if that robust planning process isn't affecting that outcome?

It's how our social housing grant colleagues prioritise certain schemes and members. It's a whole process; it's a long, tortuous process, sometimes, to develop a scheme for people with substance misuse issues. Would you want someone living next door to you in a scheme for people with substance misuse issues? It's those sorts of questions. Where do you locate a scheme? It's all about the location of some of these schemes.

So, outside of the annual budget processing, you would—

So, it's factoring into the programme for social housing grant as well and/or—and this is where it gets complex—capital funding from other Welsh Government pots—i.e. substance misuse. So, you're working with the area planning board on substance misuse issues, because there's a capital fund there—

So, what needs to happen, then—I'm asking the question—in terms of moving that forward, if that's a desired need? Forget your very pertinent question at the start, but what needs to happen on the strategic level so that we can increase the number of fixed—?

Closer working with our colleagues, obviously, across both, where there are capital funding streams—so, with our colleagues in the area planning board, for example, and domestic abuse and other areas, because there's capital with domestic abuse now as well—but more importantly with our colleagues in our own local authorities who have their fingers on the social housing grant button. The priorities will come from various sources on that funding. There's always need for more affordable housing, isn't there? So, what percentage of that? You could say, 'Let's top-slice. Let's put a percentage towards supported accommodation', for example, or extra care or whatever so that x amount goes directly to those types of schemes.

I suppose, in terms of how we improve upon that, I suppose it is the conversations with the wider directorates across Welsh Government around the benefits of supported housing. It does reduce hospital admissions. It does enable discharge more quickly. It does support people to live more independently within the community. So, it's making sure there's that recognition across different departments. We have had good progress, for example, with the former intermediate care fund and the integrated care fund and capital budgets. For example, in Gwent we've got the In One Place programme, which is where we're developing accommodation and supported accommodation through a slightly different route, sometimes through the social housing grant or sometimes through the integrated care fund. So, it's where other sectors recognise the benefits of supported housing, and I'm thinking, say, health, for example, in reducing more costly hospital stays, and basically the benefit of the impact for individuals who are living in more appropriate accommodation, but also the cost savings as well. So, it's us and the Welsh Government raising that sort of momentum around the understanding of the benefits of supported housing, and as a valid investment, if you like.

15:00

I think Vikki Howells is very eager to come in at this point.

Yes. That's an interesting point that you both made there about the benefits of working with professionals in other sectors in order to really shore up the fixed support. Does that mean, then, that removing the ring fence around the Supporting People programme could actually be, in that respect, beneficial?

As it currently stands, the Supporting People budget isn't set to go in the revenue support grant. So, if you're talking about it not going into the RSG, revenue support grant, or it being merged with the early intervention and prevention funding stream as of 2019-20, I think—. We have to, in some degree, rely on the very mature frameworks that are in place around the Supporting People programme, and how people are involved in actually commissioning services. So, I think there's reliance on that. I'm not sure exactly what you meant.

Can I just—? 

[Inaudible.]—guarantee the funding for both parties, really. Who's going to develop a scheme without any secure revenue funding? So, I think it needs to be ring-fenced to be able to do that. It buys you that security, in a sense, that that scheme will be developed and there'll be revenue funding available for it in addition to housing benefit and other sources of funding as well—it could be health funding; it could be others. So, I think I would say that they go hand in glove.

Just one other point on schemes: don't lose what you've got, as well, because we do remodel, we do reshape, we do develop. Grotty old supported housing schemes for people that come out of hospital and with learning difficulties some 25 years ago—that property may be totally unsuitable for them now because they're ageing, because they may have onset dementia and so on. If you've got a scheme already there, try and reuse it, because that's the quickest, easiest way to do it: never mind planning use change, but try and keep hold of it. We've done that recently in Newport; we developed a young persons' accommodation scheme that was previously a supported living scheme for people with learning difficulties.

I just think it goes back to your earlier question around the uncertainty of funding levels. Because, obviously, we need to make sure that we've got the confidence and the revenue alongside it. So, one of the issues around extra-care schemes, for example, which are well supported, is, again, can we ensure that we've got the revenue to continue that support? So, I think it goes back to that long-term funding commitment as well in terms of the development of more fixed support schemes.

In England, part of the recommendations of the select committee was to actually have a capital fund alongside the revised revenue funding.

Well, clearly, revising the funding formula for distributing programme funds to those in greatest need is problematic. Can I start with you, Naomi, and ask what the WLGA's view is of the key issue or key issues to be considered in developing and implementing a new funding formula? And, allied to that, how much dialogue has there been with you, so far, about the way forward here?

In the Aylward report, there was a proposed revised funding formula; we didn't move ahead on that—when I say 'we', it's because there was the discussion, so I'm talking about it being discussed and agreed on a co-productive basis with the Welsh Government, the providers, local authorities and other interested parties—because there was debate and discussion around what should be included in terms of that formula and the percentage of weight put on those that were taken forward. If I recall correctly—and Nigel and Elke will tell me if I'm wrong—there was then some work that Welsh Government commissioned from LE Wales to look at a new formula. So, I think there’s been lots of discussion over the last few years around having a revised formula. What may help now is having some more clear strategic objectives that can actually then influence how a formula is developed and how it’s allocated and weighted within that.

When we were looking at, a few years ago now, making—and we’d started, I think, a year or two, starting to redress the balance, and redistributing the funding based on need as opposed to the historical pattern—. That was stopped at the time because of the impact of austerity. So, authorities were taking huge reductions in budget, and then reductions were being made to Supporting People, and then redistributing that would have caused too much flux in some areas. As I said earlier, one of the priorities that was driving the discussions at the time was not destabilising the market in terms of those big financial changes that could happen. As Nigel and Elke have said, if there’s not a lot of preparation for that, we were also concerned that people may see big increases in the budget but not actually developing the services alongside that because there hadn’t been enough lead-in time to that.

So, I think, from our point of view, we’ve supported the steps that have been taken up until now. Probably, I don't know, nine months ago there were some discussions around the Supporting People national advisory board about revisiting these discussions, and some of those conversations are taking place through the finance sub-group, which the WLGA is a member of, but some of the issues and those concerns are still there. So, one of the things—anything that does happen does need to have some transition, and quite slowly, because I remember at the time one of what we were talking about was whether there was a five- or 10-year transition period to get to that proper stage based on need, just because of not wishing to destabilise the market.

So, I think we are supportive of the need for a new formula, but fully recognise the complexity of getting to where we need to be on these issues.

15:05

You’re following the auditor general’s own recommendations in this area, so I’m sure that’s a very wise course of action. And you rightly say that there were substantial, in cash terms, budget cuts, which were varied in their effect, and, of course, Newport has seen recently a substantial reduction of £0.8 million, and Torfaen rather less so—£20,000 less than you would have got under the original funding formula. So, clearly here we've got an effect that may not have been fully understood at the time that these decisions were made. Perhaps you could give us some idea, Nigel, about what has been the impact on Newport of the cuts in the proposed budget of that kind.

In a sense it’s money we haven’t had that we would have had if the formula had carried on, so to speak. Yes, we had big cuts in 2005-06. We all had big cuts in 2005-06. I think we had about that equivalent cut then. We managed it.

The consequences of not having that money are, let’s be honest, more people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, because we haven’t been able to develop our homeless hostels as we would like, more people staying longer in some of our other schemes, because we can’t develop transition-type projects that we’d like for people with substance-misuse issues, older persons, the frail, and so on to move through. We’d like to do that. And generally it gives us less flexibility to work with our colleagues in other funding streams, including health, because we’d like to do a lot more with health, but it stops us, in a way. We’ve got to look to our budget that we’ve got, and try and pinch—rob Peter to pay Paul, in a sense—to develop schemes, rather than having, 'You're going to have another £800,000, Newport.' Brilliant. Maybe not in one lump sum, but over time we can then plan for additional services in Newport to meet that, obviously knowing that some local authorities are going to suffer. So, we are well aware that, if we benefit in Newport, others, probably north Wales, would not.

So, it is a problem. That could be smoothed out, I suspect, with more regional working and regional budgets, pooled budgets, across the piece, but it just has made our life slightly more difficult. We would love to do more schemes, but we haven’t got the funding to do it. So, on the ground, that’s what it is, really.

15:10

No. I think the discussions that took place at the time recognised the impact it would have on those that were losing the budget but, again, I think what drove the decision making was not destabilising the market and destabilising the services, because, obviously, it was a time when not only the cuts in our budget but members of the community and the public were experiencing the impact of austerity in terms of services—so, needing to decommission some services because of quite significant cuts in funding. Because some of those authorities that had maximised the pots would have seen significant cuts in that one year. So, there were some mature decisions and discussions amongst authorities, both those that lost and would have gained at that time, the key being about keeping sure that the programme as a whole, across the whole of Wales, was delivering for the communities that they could, but recognising that we would still need to address those issues in terms of need moving forward.  

Yes. If we could return to possibly the most controversial area in this inquiry, which is the whole issue of flexible funding and the ending to hypothecation of Supporting People, I think, Naomi, it's fair to say that the WLGA is supportive of the Welsh Government's proposal. Can you just rehearse a little bit more the means by which you arrived at that position? What are the arguments in favour from your perspective? 

One of the potential benefits is around working across different funding streams—at the moment different grants, which sometimes have very specific requirements in terms of geographical delivery or the groups to be addressed—and being able to see it in terms of the global or the broader outcomes that we should want and do want to deliver in terms of public services across the region.

In terms of the bureaucracy that grant management comes with, I think it's the Wales Audit Office figure, if I'm correct, that estimates about 10 per cent of a grant can be taken with its monitoring and evaluation. So, the potential of reducing the process around those grants will free up some of the, more—.

Are you confident that that level of efficiency saving will be achieved? Have you done your own analysis, for example, based on experience elsewhere? 

Not that I'm aware of, but there is quite a lot of work that is taken and time taken to make sure that you are not only complying with the grants, but providing the monitoring of information. But I'm not aware that we've done any specific that I could give you a figure on.  

Can I ask, and I'm not sure if this is a politic question, but is this a universal view within local government in Wales in support of this proposal? I'm not expecting either Nigel or Elke to respond, though, if you're tempted, then please do. But is this pretty much the view right across local government towards working in this area, or are there a range of views as to whether this is a beneficial change or not? 

I think that I have to answer honestly—there probably is a range of views around that, but that's often the case when there's money that was a grant going into RSG, that, very much, some of the practitioners, those who work on the ground, are very concerned about the impact it will have on their services. So, I've had similar conversations in other areas where grants have gone into the revenue support grant. At elected leader, elected member and senior officer level, including generally heads of housing, there is support for more funding flexibility but, obviously, it's about how we work together across those different schemes to demonstrate and evidence the benefits of that. And I think there is a real commitment to ensure that the schemes that are there and the outcomes to be achieved are key issues for our communities. There are key issues around the preventative services. There's much better understanding, I think, now around the need for prevention and early intervention. We need to manage demand for our services, because in a lot of places demand for homelessness services is increasing at the time that we are working around prevention—as I said, being able to get upstream in certain instances around tackling some of the causes that can lead to some of these difficulties.

So, there are real opportunities, but, obviously, recognising the concerns that will be there and how we can evidence them, so working with partners and working with people to ensure those outcomes are very clear, and all of us working together to ensure that investment is in the right place.   

Just to be clear for my understanding, so, at the political level and at the senior leadership level, there is broad support for these proposals, but amongst local government staff working in the housing field, professionals, some would share some of the concerns that are felt within the wider sector. Coming on to the—. You mentioned the revenue support grant. So, if you take the broad position that, actually, getting rid of a lot of these hypothecated funds generates efficiency savings, you could develop that even further, and then put this bundle of grants into the revenue support grant. Is that the position of the WLGA? Would you like to see it eventually put into the revenue support grant?

15:15

We've not considered that, so I've not had any conversations, but, obviously, when new grants become available, there's usually a period of time when they are there as a grant, with the view that they will eventually move into the revenue support grant, but by that time, we've established the processes, we're clear about the outcomes, and those structures are in place to deliver that. I think what I would like to say is that, over the last few weeks, I've had a lot of discussions with elected members, and our council met last Friday and discussed a report on homelessness, and the level of commitment and shared concern at the levels of homelessness and the impact at the moment is quite stark, both with the housing cabinet members, and when we met with the leaders last weekend. So, there is a need around making sure that these agendas are joined up, and that we can actually work with citizens in a holistic way, because, sometimes, by having certain funding streams, you can work with some individuals and then you've got to move across to somebody else or another funding stream. So, we want to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity, recognising the concerns people have. I think Elke has been party to discussions around, not only outcomes frameworks, but the data collection, and the structures that we'll all need along the way to give that assurance to Welsh Government and to our partners as well. 

I think, obviously, the pathfinder projects will probably help that discussion around any RSG consideration. So, obviously, there's the seven localities looking at the funding flexibility with Welsh Government. I can sort of respond from a Torfaen perspective: I suppose it's about it being an opportunity maybe more than an obligation. It may be that the funding flexibility doesn't radically change things, or maybe it will change things more. But it's very early on, isn't it? We can see in the budget line that Supporting People is a separate budget line for next year, but then merged into the early intervention of prevention grants for the year after. I think the journey that the pathfinder pilots will have over the next year or so will really inform any wider debate. I think, from a locality perspective, we've got our population assessments, we've got our well-being assessments. We need to use that information. We've got our Supporting People planning and planning around the other funding streams, and I suppose what Naomi mentioned at the start of the response was around the fact that we've worked with restrictive geographies around some of the funding streams and age groups, so maybe there's an opportunity to be able to cater better for populations, based on the evidence of need. The evidence of need is certainly there for the Supporting People programme and I would argue is there for the other programmes as well. So, we really need to be able to look at that in the whole round, and see where it takes us. 

While we're on the subject of the pathfinders, Nigel, is this 100 per cent flexibility something that you welcomed with huge enthusiasm?

No. [Laughter.]

Supporting People started from a different place than the other programmes in my opinion. It started from the issue of hostel development, accommodation-based schemes. Now, in this mishmash of funding flexibilities, as I've said before around accommodation-based schemes, would we take funding away from schemes like that? Probably not. Talking to a corporate director who recently left, I asked him a simple question. I said, 'Would you have developed a scheme, a supported housing scheme, for ex-offenders in Newport, given funding?' 'No', he said, 'we wouldn't. It's a non-statutory service.' Floating support, however—there can be some development, I think, across the piece on funding flexibilities. The hub model is being looked at in Newport as a possible way of doing that. So, rather than support workers going out to everybody across the way, people come in. You can get better value for money, you can see more people, you can do crisis services and so on. You can also, if you have computers there, help people around the welfare reform agenda, because we know how difficult that can be, with universal credit coming to Newport this month.

So, the jury's out for me on this. I can see more synergy between Families First and Flying Start, and Communities First and Supporting People. But mashing all the four together, I'd see a big bun fight later on down the road.

15:20

That's one of the points that has been made by Cymorth Cymru, in their response to the committee—they're not opponents of any change, and they can see some advantages, actually, of some degree of funding flexibility, but there's an issue with 100 per cent flexibility. But also, are these the right funds to bundle together? Because with some of them, there actually is no synergy whatsoever—they're working with different cohorts, and they don't have homelessness, really, at their heart. Whereas, some of the other funds that you referred to—homeless prevention grant, and some of the others, the integrated care fund—you could see, actually, there are other funds out there where there is actually a closer match. So, isn't there an argument, Naomi, to accept the principle of working across funds, but maybe not these particular five?

I think, from a local government perspective, obviously, the Supporting People services are hugely valued for the work they undertake. But we also have broader roles and responsibilities across the piece. And I think that, while you provide housing support to individuals, in terms of dealing with their homelessness, or helping to tackle independently, in terms of some individuals there is a need to support people back into employment, to support people to develop their skills. So, in a way, it depends how this is all set up, in terms of how they work across the piece. Because if it enables that holistic approach to be taken, and actually much more easy join-up in terms of ensuring that people have the support they require in terms of their housing, but also in addressing other factors within their lives, it may actually offer an opportunity for a real holistic and individual kind of approach to looking at how we're using all the services that we provide as a local authority, plus working with our partners, to improve outcomes for people.

So, I think Elke would say—. I mean, some of the pathfinder models have been working on the previous allocation of some of those grants, so they've probably got a lot more experience, but this will be very closely monitored by—well, by Welsh Government, and I think all of us, very closely, as to how this actually is delivered. And I think we need that leadership, to try and achieve the outcomes that we do need for our citizens.

What about the broader point that's made, and, indeed, Nigel has referred to it—or alluded to it, or actually referred to it directly—which is that there are categories of individual and cohorts that are not going to be at the higher end of political priority at a local level, and the reason that you need a protected ring-fenced hypothecated fund is to ensure that, in the difficult task that local authorities face, in a very challenging financial environment, that need of those particular groups is not left at the bottom of a very, very long list?

I think what I would say is that I don't think the identified needs are left at the bottom of the list. Some of the issues, and the example that Nigel gave around establishing new schemes, or new—very often, the concerns, if you like, are from members of the community, in terms of a bit of, dare I say it, Nimbyism, in terms of some of the unpopular schemes that may be there. But that doesn't mean that, actually, authorities haven't identified them as a need, in terms of being able to take them forward. So, I'm sure many of you will be aware of the identified need around accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers, which is very difficult to take forward, because of the reaction from the communities around proposed sites. So, I disagree. I think there is politically—what was the term—?

You do indeed, but—

So, in a sense, that is the method that has been chosen—whether it's effective or not is another question—but that is the method, in order to protect what could otherwise be a less popular action by the local authority. How are we going to do that with these particular groups if we don't have—?

15:25

Certainly, the discussions that I've had over the last few weeks—and, particularly, I say 'the last few weeks' since we've had our cabinet members—were on needing to take that holistic approach to people's needs. So, appreciating that substance misuse will have an impact and that we need to tackle those issues. So, there were no politically unpopular groups or categories of individuals, for example, in terms of those discussions; it was people with mental health problems, people with substance-misuse problems, people with very complex issues that our elected members were very keen to ensure we were tackling those issues for because of the impact they have on those individuals, but the cost of public services further on down the stream. So, there's an economic answer here as well, as well as the importance of enabling people to achieve their own ambitions and to address the complex and difficult issues that they've had.

So, I understand where those concerns have come from, but, certainly, my experience over the last few years is that people very much understand the need to tackle those holistic approaches, and there's not 'politically unpopular', although we do have challenges in allocating or identifying suitable placements or suitable accommodation for some of those groups at some points.

Just finally, Chair, if I may: obviously, this is a very complex, multifaceted discussion in which there is, it's fair to say, a range of views. Do you think the way in which the Welsh Government have introduced this idea has been, how shall we put it, suboptimal, and it would have been better had there been a full consultation process, possibly the idea could have even been the subject of a White Paper et cetera, so that we could have the kind of debate that we're having retrospectively, as it were, more openly, so we could have arrived, possibly, at a better end result?

I probably could accept that, because I think some of that work now needs to be done quite quickly, doesn't it, in terms of setting out what those outcomes will be, and the process and the structures around that?

I don't think it's something that, you know—. The decision, eventually, on how it's communicated may have seemed to come from the blue, but those discussions and that push for more flexibility around those grants have been around for quite a while in terms of discussions, debates and the pilots and pathfinders that were used as well. But, certainly, in terms of making sure that everyone was taken with you—and that has been a general approach, making sure that we're all together in how we try and move forward as much as possible—this probably hasn't been handled in the best way that it could have been.

Press create

Just on that, I'm interested: when were you in local government first informed of this idea in its earliest incarnation?

I think, previously, local government were involved in the alignment programme, the alignment project, which was phase 1, if you like, of the tackling poverty alignment, whereby a number of—. Well, local authorities in Wales were asked by Welsh Government about their interest to be involved in aligning the four funding streams at that point in time, which was communicated by Carl Sargeant. So, that alignment project came to an end and funding flexibilities were, essentially, I suppose, phase 2. So, it's always been an iterative process, and there have been key communications to local authorities and partner organisations from Welsh Government. In relation to the funding streams and safeguards to the different programmes and unpopular client groups, I think that, for me, the emphasis would be on the evidence of need and that services are commissioned in accordance with the evidence of need. I think it's just changing that sort of instruction slightly, so it's almost as if those political decisions are informed by—.

Evidence, yes, absolutely. And I suppose what we're seeing is the four funding streams being merged, if that's the right term, for year 2. That's still not within the RSG. So, there are opportunities as well to think differently. For example, with the Supporting People programme, the types of services that are commissioned now that were commissioned only in 2003, we have, for example, moved away from a lot of tenure-specific services, tenancy support, support for people in the private sector and the owner-occupier sector, because lots of people are facing hardship. We've already talked about drop-in-type services. Years ago, we wouldn't typically have commissioned those types of services. So, it might be that there are ways of working where we can be a little bit more creative and serve the population better.

15:30

We are almost—we are out of time, but, Rhianon Passmore, did you have some closing questions?

Yes, very briefly, then. In terms of the amalgamation of the grants, and obviously the precedent in education in terms of education grants, is there any concern, as has already been alluded to, that there will be a competitive element to the 100 per cent flexibility of funding and that Supporting People, in terms of its raison d'être, as we mentioned right at the beginning, is going to have to compete with some very, very popular and very important programmes, for instance Flying Start, et cetera?

Yes. I'll be honest, children—. 

Children are more popular than drug addicts or rough sleepers. So, yes. I only knew about this on 24 June last year. I didn't even know my local authority had put in the bid. So, I didn't even see the bid, nor did my other three programme managers. So, there's a [Inaudible.] process. We didn't even know. I still don't know what the bid looks like, because I haven't seen it. So, I'm not happy about that, but that's just me. Yes, I think there will be issues around squabbles between the partners, but also there will be where we can work together as well, definitely.

I would hope by working together we can develop guidance that actually safeguards against that. 

How important, in terms of regulation and monitoring of the Pathfinder—? That would be where we see the difference between theoretical practice and reality.

But also the guidance that comes first from Welsh Government. Yes.

It's about having some guidance that allows that innovation, because, in some instances, having too much prescription actually causes problems. It's getting that balance right between what is required and what is expected in terms of the outcomes, but allowing that innovation as well. But obviously, because we're aware of the concerns, what we need to make sure is that, in developing the programme, we try and address those concerns and safeguard them as much as possible.

Two more points, quickly, Chair. One, it's not as if we're not doing it already and haven't done it, as a lot of local authorities have worked jointly with Families First and Communities First—not necessarily Flying Start; that's a slightly more different programme—and we have had joint funded projects across the piece. Secondly, in Newport, we did an analysis of Supporting People households and Flying Start households and Communities First households, and you'd expect there to be at least a 50 per cent linkage with those households, but it was 15 per cent in both cases. That's the household, never mind members of the household, just the household synergy crossover.

Very finally from me on that, on the issue of data, how easy did you find it to get the data you needed for the all-Wales data linking project? It often comes up in this committee and other committees, the problem of a lack of specific Welsh data. Did you have any issues with that?

SAIL, CEMP, SP—. SP will have their own database, but ours is through Civica because we link with the housing database. So, homeless housing, housing options, Supporting People are part of that big database. So, we link closely with housing in that respect. It is an issue always—data—isn't it?

Yes. We come up against that in all sorts of inquiries across committees, but there we are. Great. Can I thank our witnesses, Elke Winton, Naomi Alleyne and Nigel Stannard for being with us today? That's been really helpful.

Chair, we are aware you had another area, so if you did want to write to us if there are specific questions, we'd be happy to provide evidence, because we've run out of time today. If there's anything else, feel free to write to us.

That's great. Thanks for that. We'll send you a copy of today's transcript, just for you to check before it's finalised. Thank you.

Okay, we'll take a short break for six or seven minutes before the next session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:34 a 15:42.

The meeting adjourned between 15:34 and 15:42.

15:40
5. Rhaglen Cefnogi Pobl Llywodraeth Cymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3
5. The Welsh Government’s Supporting People Programme: Evidence Session 3

Welcome back. Item 5 of this afternoon's Public Accounts Committee meeting is continuing our inquiry into the Welsh Government's Supporting People programme. Can I welcome our second set of witnesses today? Thanks for being with us. Would you like to give your names and positions for the Record of Proceedings?

I'm Angela Lee. I'm the regional development co-ordinator for Supporting People in Gwent.

And I'm Sam Lewis. I work for Llamau, but I'm here because I'm the vice-chair of the Gwent regional collaborative committee and a support provider representative on the Gwent RCC.

Great. Thanks for being with us. I'll kick off with the first couple of questions. Generally speaking, how might the Welsh Government improve communication about the priorities of the programme and wider developments?

I suppose if I had any thoughts on that, it would be that there has been a lot of communication about different priorities. It's not always that easy to match them all up, necessarily. So, I think, in the last year we had about five different letters asking us if we could focus or prioritise specific bits of work—so, maybe, domestic abuse and violence against women work, young people and care leavers work, homelessness prevention work. When you're getting quite so many letters asking you to prioritise a specific part of it, it can be quite difficult to join all of that up. 

We've also had several Ministers overseeing the programme. So, obviously, every time we have a new Minister, they come with their own priorities for the programme, and that's where we had the numerous letters that are sent to us, asking us to prioritise certain things.

Have you found that quite—? Has that been destabilising?

I think that, from our point of view, the Gwent RCC has been a conduit to enable us to try and make some sense of that, so that we can disseminate information through the structures that we have in place—for example, our regional provider forum. But, there are a lot of competing priorities, and there is an expectation that Supporting People can do a lot of things for a lot of different people. So, trying to not make it confusing has been a big part of what the RCC's role is, I think.

You've spoken about changing objectives. What impact do you think the new objectives will have on the programme, particularly delivery on the ground?

Do you mean through the new guidance?

15:45

I think we're at a really good point in time with the new guidance and it gives a lot of opportunity for us to be very clear about what the priorities for the programme are. Anybody who works in this sector understands that it's a housing-related support programme, it's there to prevent homelessness, and I think the guidance gives us that opportunity to really make that clear.

I think the process through which the guidance has come about—so, it's been consulted on, the sector's had time to look at it, along with all other partners as well, and to provide some feedback—makes it a lot easier for us to react to that in a planned and structured way, going forward, as opposed to letters that might just come out asking for one bit of work to be prioritised over others, really.

Thank you. So, what have the challenges and successes of regional working in the Gwent region been over the last five years?

I think, in terms of Gwent, we were lucky from the start in that the Gwent local authorities had a commitment to working together quite a bit anyway. There was, for example, a joint-funded Supporting People officer in Gwent prior to the regional development co-ordinator post, which came about after the Aylward review. So, there was that commitment there anyway, which has made life a lot easier, I think, in terms of taking that regional working forward, and the SP teams have looked at making their approaches more consistent for providers as well. 

In regard to your impression—and it's a bit difficult for you to respond, I understand—and in regard to pan Wales, what is your view across the piste in terms of regional working in this regard?

I think, for me, when we are looking pan Wales, it has to be with the acknowledgement that Gwent and north Wales did start, perhaps, with an advantage compared to other regions. So, as Sam highlighted, the Gwent model and the Gwent way of working was the best practice that has been rolled out in relation to the RCC structures and governance. So, having that advantage within Gwent, we already had a lot of processes in place that allowed us to work regionally. And then, when we look at other areas that are implementing these new governance arrangements, that needs to be taken into account. So, for me, I think the other areas, as far as I'm aware, because I work closely with the other co-ordinators, are catching up and there is progress. And from the annual reviews that were submitted to the Supporting People national advisory board this year, you can see that there is progress in those other regions. But, for us in Gwent, it formalised the way of working that was already there.

Okay. So, in regard to the auditor general's report, he mentioned the absence of pooled budgets, the focus on local services and different timelines for contracts. Do you feel that those have been particular barriers for you, for joint working in Gwent?

I think the challenges of annualised budgets has had a massive impact. It's really difficult to plan long term in that instance, and, as an RCC, to be told almost every year that we're potentially facing 10 to 20 per cent cuts come the following April means that when we're trying to plan for new developments, we're really limited to pilot schemes of a floating support nature, really, if that is then a safety net for cuts that are due to come in the following year. So, I think that's made life a bit more challenging in terms of taking forward robust regionalised projects of a large nature.

The auditor general also mentions that there could be a case that RCCs do not really have any authority, power, or they lack teeth. Would you sympathise with that? What's your view?

I think, in Gwent, with the well-embedded partnership working and collaborative working that we have, I think everybody has embraced the RCC structure and what it is able to do within the confines of what it can and what it can't do. It doesn't hold the purse strings. For us, the RCCs have always had a function of being a scrutiny committee to scrutinise local decision making. We've agreed that part of its role is to raise the profile of the Supporting People programme across Gwent. We've focused heavily on our marketing tools and branding, and we've made strategic links to all the other partnerships and fora that are currently operating. I think, without the RCC in place, that wouldn't have happened. We wouldn't have made those strong links with other partnerships such as the area planning board, the VAWDASV agenda and the regional partnership board. The fact that we have a regional committee allows us to do that. If it was a localised budget, then I think it would be more difficult to make those regional strategic links.

15:50

So, in terms of aligning yourself with other collaborative governance arrangements you've mentioned previously in your earlier comments, do you feel that it's optimum at the moment? Do you feel that it could be improved in terms of alignment and in terms of collaboration?

I think we've done what we've needed to do. We have RCC members who are sat on all the other regional partnership boards and committees. I work very closely with the VAWDASV team. The function of this post is utilised to make those links. I also work closely with the co-ordinator from the substance misuse area planning board. So, a lot of that kind of functionality is brought to this post and enables that to happen.

If it's possible for you to have a comment in regard to the other RCCs, do you feel that the framework is rigorous enough? Obviously the context is as it is, but do you feel that that framework out there is mature enough so that others are working to the optimum?

I think it's difficult to comment on that specifically, but I know in Gwent we've worked really hard at mapping which of our members are attending which meetings and making sure there's communication flow back and forth. I think we've also been quite proactive at co-opting non-voting members onto the RCC as well. So, we've got representation from Tai Pawb, from the police and crime commissioner's office, and trying to make those wider links with other agendas too.

But, obviously, that's being proactive, so is that framework rigourous enough for you to work within—is it stretching and testing?

I think, in Gwent, I would say it's working quite well—the framework that we have. For other areas, it would be difficult to comment, and I think, probably, that would then come back to, perhaps, Welsh Government Supporting People team officers making sure that that kind of agenda is taken forward.

Thank you, Chair. So, Sam, you said that the budget pressures and funding uncertainty have really limited in Gwent two pilot schemes that were of a floating support nature, and you're certainly not the first witness to tell us that. How does a move to longer term funding horizons and spending plans support scrutiny by the RCC?

I think it would allow us—. You'd have to mix it with the fact that, in the last couple of years, we've also had welfare reforms and the threat of the supported accommodation review, which is still continuing in a smaller way than it was prior to the last month. So, I suppose both of those things have just led to a degree of uncertainty in terms of it's not just Supporting People funds all of the time: there are housing benefit implications; there are the implications of development costs for partners. So, there are RSLs that might be involved in developing a building for an actual static project, and they've not had the confidence, I don't think, that they'd have the long-term guarantee of income to be able to make a business plan for new developments over the last few years. So, I think both of those things together would need to be addressed for us to be able to have confidence in being able to plan going forwards for radical changes, I suppose, to projects.

I completely agree with what Sam says. We've been every year facing potential cuts to the budget of up to 20 per cent, which need to be planned for. But I also think, within Gwent, that we have been very proactive and we've continued to develop pilot projects, an example of which is our Gypsy and Traveller regional project. That's just recently won the Chartered Institute of Housing award for equality and diversity in housing. That was delivered on a pilot basis for a year with one worker. In the second year, an additional worker was commissioned and now there's discussions with those local authorities commissioning that service that that project is made permanent. So, even within the sort of realms that we're working in, we are still delivering on a regional basis. Caerphilly and other local authorities are currently considering a complex needs domestic abuse project in the south of the region. So, there is still activity.

We did a review about a year ago of two services that were regional: a prolific offender service and a high-risk offender service. Those two schemes were amalgamated into one project to make referral pathways clearer. So, there's still a lot of work going on regionally in Gwent, and even in the way things have been for the last few years with the uncertainty, the Supporting People teams have been committed to working regionally when it's appropriate to do so. Obviously, there are risks. You know, they don't know what their budgets are going to be for the following year, and there is uncertainty, but there's still that collaboration to deliver projects to people when the need is evidenced.

15:55

If I can just ask you about some of those newer projects there, like the Gypsy and Traveller project and the domestic abuse project that you referred to, it can often be difficult in this kind of line of work to make sure that planning isn't just based on historical patterns but on well-evidenced need. So, could you expand and explain to us how you came to the decision that those were the areas that required that extra support?

In relation to the domestic abuse project, the complex needs project in the south of the region, that's been well evidenced through research that's been undertaken around domestic abuse. We had a pathway project, which showed evidence of that, and also the domestic abuse modernisation project for Gwent—so, going back as far as 2012, evidence that an additional refuge to support women with complex needs was needed. So, we've been working on the basis of those pieces of evidence for that.

On the Gypsy and Traveller community, there are two large communities in Gwent, mainly in Torfaen and in Newport, who are very isolated from services, experiencing a lot of housing-related support issues. So, evidence locally for those communities was brought together and it was agreed to commission that service regionally because it would make more sense. That service is commissioned across three local authorities but also picks up service users from the Gypsy and Traveller community in the other areas as well. As I said, that was commissioned on a pilot basis for a year, and the outcomes have been fantastic. Support workers are very, very busy, and additional support workers have been put in to cope with the caseloads that they've got.

In Gwent, we've got a very robust strategic and inclusive needs planning framework, which is delivered on an annual basis. We take account of stakeholders' views. All these things used to be done locally through events and questionnaires, but we do a lot of this on a regional basis now, recognising that many of our providers work across five Gwent local authorities and for them to go to five events is not realistic. So, we hold a regional stakeholder event. We had our first service user regional event this year, and then we use all sorts of other avenues, talking directly to providers, speaking with the Supporting People team et cetera to collect information and analyse data. So, it would be data such as your waiting lists, wouldn't it, and—

Yes. And voids. It's fair to say as well that each of the SP teams monitors their contracts in terms of key performance indicators. So, if there was an issue with voids in a particular scheme or for a particular client group, they'd be feeding that back in. They'd also be doing their regular service reviews, linked with whether or not contracts are renewed or need to go back out to tender or need to be remodelled. So, all of that's come back in as well to inform the decisions of the RCC. 

Okay, thank you. Just finally, then, could I ask you both: what progress has been made on addressing variations in the provision of support for people with learning difficulties in Gwent and addressing any issues there with ineligible spend?

I think there's been a lot of work that happened on that. The RCC in Gwent realised early on, I think, that we couldn't do all of the work we needed to do just through the RCC meetings. So, we've had a number of development days and, on one of those of development days—I think it was 2014, Ange, wasn't it—we looked specifically at the spend on different client groups, and it became apparent that that was disproportionate across different local authority areas. So, that then kick-started a piece of work to investigate that further and to look at where the discrepancies may have come from and whether indeed all of that spend was SP-relevant spend, which led to a working group, a task and finish group, and an action plan for different local authority areas. There was work to involve the senior managers within adult services as well to sign off on a kind of individualised needs assessment for all of the people within those schemes to double-check whether or not the appropriate split between SP and care provision was in place. And that's ongoing, really, at the moment, isn't it?

It was recognised, on the back of the Aylward review, that we had to review services for older people, to ensure that they were tenure neutral and based on need. It was at that point that we realised that if we didn't actually review services for people with a learning disability alongside that process, then we were going to leave that client group—learning disabilities—at an advantage because they were receiving services that weren't based on assessed need. So, we did the two pieces of work alongside each other. As Sam said, the principles and the recommendations that came out of what we call the learning disabilities review were signed off by each head of service from social services departments across Gwent. So, the report, signed off through the RCC and through the heads of services, provided the SP managers with the leverage to make the changes that they need and carry out the assessments through those schemes. What it has enabled is that support elements may have been pulled out of those schemes, but other services have been commissioned. So, for example, in Blaenau Gwent, a vulnerable adult service has been commissioned to ensure that people with a learning disability or autism et cetera would be picked up and that their needs would still be met, but through a floating support scheme, so it was able to meet a far greater number of people. The benefits are—

16:00

When you talk about a floating support scheme, what do you mean by that?

So, rather than the services being based in supported accommodation, then that scheme is a floating support scheme. But in order to access it, you need to have a lower-level learning disability or autism spectrum disorder or Asperger's, for example.

The auditor general has said that the Welsh Government doesn't yet have a good enough understanding of the impact of the Supporting People programme, and progress has been slow in developing the evaluation regime for assessing outcomes. People on the ground, delivering the programme, say that the outcomes data are time-consuming to collect, and some of the data that is being collected is not reliable. So, there are criticisms of the framework that is needed. Can you say to what extent the revised outcomes framework that the Welsh Government is proposing will address the complaints and the limitations of the system as we've seen it?

In terms of the proposals within the consultation, I haven't seen anything since that to comment on. I think it's fair to say there were some concerns from providers and, I think, from other sectors as well, around the distance travelled tool, going from five steps to three in terms of how meaningful that actually would have been for anybody. I think, certainly, I'd quite like to see some joint working with the Office for National Statistics around a really robust distance travelled measure for the outcomes, which might be much more meaningful in terms of individuals. I think, from providers generally, our plea would be for the outcomes to be meaningful. It's not that we don't want to be measuring outcomes, and we've all, actually, as providers, developed our own individual outcomes-measuring tools and had those running alongside the SPPG outcomes for a long time. So, we're all measuring slightly different things individually. If we could get a tool that really worked—. And maybe one size doesn't fit all, which is what, at the moment, it's intended to do. So, the outcomes are intended to work for people within short-term services, as well as people within longer term services. Sometimes there are very different aims for those. So, actually using the same outcomes might not be the best way forward.

I think so, yes. I think the point around there just being three steps—it risks that everybody ends up in the middle step. So, there needs to be some more work around that area. We've been engaged throughout the process. One of the benefits from Gwent is that many of the officers sit on a lot of the work streams that have worked around the outcomes and other work streams. So, we're well represented, and will continue to do so. So, I think it's just being given the opportunity to look at the consultation responses and to look at how better that can be developed, going forward. For me, personally, and, I think, across the board, people just want to see some investment. This is a large revenue budget and it needs additional moneys put into it so that we can evidence the work that we're doing. And that might require a new database or a new set of systems, but, given the size of the pot of money, it's justified.

16:05

The auditor general said that any new outcome framework arrangements need to be clearly understood by providers, obviously, and need to be embedded as part of the contractual arrangements. So, can you give me, or the committee, your view of how any revised outcome framework can best be communicated and embedded?

Personally, I think there'd need to be clarity as to—. As I said earlier, if there's to be a one-size-fits-all service, then it needs to be really clear how different services are allocating a score within that. Because I think short-term services, where there's going to be a journey from, say, a 24-hour supported scheme into floating support until someone's able to cope within their own home, those need to link up. And, if it's different providers doing those, at the moment we're not sharing end scores so that they would become start scores for the next provider. So, that would need to be thought about. And it would need to be clear whether the scores were per project environment or per individual's journey, which I think is probably one of the biggest confusions at the moment.

The only thing to add to that is probably a national training programme rolled out. Within Gwent, the officers have worked together to come up with a training manual, and they've worked closely with providers to deliver the same messages. So, for me, it would be that that training manual or programme is rolled out nationally so that everybody's singing from the same song sheet.

Obviously, in regard to the four-year all-Wales data linking study, that's going ahead, but Welsh Government is still, I gather, contemplating a recommendation around the cost savings for health services. Do you think that they should be considering a wider cost-savings benefit analysis of the programme?

That was my understanding—that part of the SAIL work was to look at the health cost-benefits.

Yes, and that, going forward, it would potentially have the ability to consider things like the cost savings to criminal justice.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much, panel. What long-term project would the RCC look to fund if they had more confidence that the budget would be maintained in future?

What long-term project?

As mentioned earlier, we do have long-term projects that are under way at the moment. We have the complex needs domestic abuse refuge, which is under way. It's been planned for several years.

Just got through planning.

Just got through planning. So, that is happening. So, I think the longer term projects are still being considered, even in the uncertain world that we're in, with regard to the budget. The local authority SP teams are still working closely together to deliver longer term projects. But, as Sam said, when they're capital projects as well, it requires more certainty for RSLs et cetera to be able to commit funding as well. It's not just—

I suppose one of the possibilities—. There's been a review recently of care leavers with complex needs across Gwent, so you could see that being a possibility for future work. But that would have to be a pooled budget approach, not just SP moneys, because of the complexities of need that would be involved with young people for a project like that.

I'll just put it another way. What do you see are the risks, and possibly the benefits, to the provision of housing-related support of establishing an integrated early intervention and prevention grant?

I suppose our concerns at the moment would be that the SP budget line disappears entirely, as I understand it, from 2019-20 to go into this new pot, whereas we were informed that the budget had been protected up until 2020. So, the implication of it disappearing, as such, makes us think that it's possibly not protected. And it would be much more difficult to dig down and see where that money is actually going if it's combined with four or five other grants. And the amount for all of those is reducing by £13 million, it would seem, in that year as well. So, if SP were to be protected in that year, that means there's £13 million disappearing from Families First, Communities First, the employability grant moneys. So, I suppose it's the accountability of all of that that would bother us. 

16:10

So, you'd rather remain as the situation is at the moment. 

As a separate line in a budget, so that it's easy to identify what's happening with it.

Are they really missing or are they cut? The thing is—. I put it to others in a different way. What are the key issues that need to be considered in developing and implementing a new funding formula? And how much dialogue has there been to date about the way forward?

By 'funding formula', are you meaning in terms of this new early intervention grant?

Okay. In terms of communication with us so far, I'm not sure. We knew that there was a possibility of a kind of supergrant—from 2020 was my understanding—and that there would be consultation up until that point to see what it looked like and all the rest of it. So, when the budget was announced with the 100 per cent funding flexibility for seven local authority areas and 15 per cent funding flexibility for the others, that was a bit of a shock to all of us, I think.

You mentioned £13 million is missing—is it missing or is it a cut in the budget?

From looking at the budget as it's been presented, my understanding is that, from the amount of money that would be available for all of those five or six budget headings in 2018-19 to what it would be in 2019-20, there's a £13 million shortfall between the years. So, where is that going and where's it going from?

Right. And, finally, 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 its recent proposal, and how much consultation has there been to date about the Welsh Government proposal?

Around the early intervention and prevention fund, still, or—?

The concerns that I have around the new fund are that it's going to be a large amount of money going to local authorities on a locality basis, so I can't understand how our regional governance structures that are currently in place for Supporting People are going to be able to oversee these kinds of mega-grants that are going into local authorities from 2019—well, for us, two local authorities from April. We're going to have two local authorities that are going to be administering five funding streams under one pot—early intervention—with full flexibility, and, from the following year, all 22 local authorities doing that. So, I can't understand how the RCC governance structures will be able to take account of that, particularly when we're looking at a cross-over between services that are basically children's services, all the way through to adult services.

So, I have some concerns around the governance arrangements. The governance arrangements for SP are very robust, very strong and the programme's very well monitored. I can't see how that fit will happen, so I do have some concerns there around the implementation of that grant going forward, and what happens to the regional structures that we've got now.

The thing is leadership. You reckon, in your department, RCC, they've got leadership and the people who are employed are competent to do the job and make the money, rather than cutting or not having the right people in the right job, and then you're delivering, properly, within your own departments, all the needs of the people within your financial limits.

I didn't really understand, sorry.

The thing is: can you deliver, within the existing budget—put it that way—with this leadership?

If it remains with its own budget line.

Yes. You mentioned the £13 million shortage, so I'm concerned about how you can deliver if a serious part is not there.

I think if it goes to a localised budget—a supergrant—of five, six or up to nine funding streams, I can't see how an RCC could have governance over that. So, I think that the governance arrangements would need to change. As an RCC, we're looking at the Supporting People budget and our role is to scrutinise the spend of that budget, and it's an adult services budget; it's not children's services. So, the skills that would be required on that committee would need to be much broader, and I'm not quite sure how you would do that across children's services and adult services.

For me, it feels that, with the supported accommodation review moneys and homelessness prevention grants, and Supporting People being a housing-related support budget and homelessness prevention fund, we should be more aligning ourselves there, with those other budgets and funds that provide services for adults, not putting us in with Families First and Flying Start, which provide support to children.

16:15

Do you feel that your concerns have been adequately listened to or factored in to the proposals for changes?

We as an RCC haven't had any consultation mechanism around this. The first that the RCC was made aware of this was when the funding flexibilities letter came out in the middle of October. I'm correct in that, Sam, yes?

Yes, and scrutiny of the actual lines in the budget, as well, after the budget was published.

So, going back to that initial question of mine about communication, it seems to have been rather lacking in this respect.

I think it's also fair to say, in terms of your question, the RCC has got to the point in Gwent in recent years where we've been planning for the potential for cuts each April, where the reality is now that as many cuts as could have been made for efficiencies have happened. So, realistically, now, if there were further cuts, we would be looking at cutting service provision. That would be the only option available in terms of £13 million disappearing.

Just on this £13.6 million, or whatever it is, supposed efficiency saving, the theory behind it is that it'll be easier to administer, therefore the administration cost will be lower. Do we have figures for the current cost of administration, the proportion of the—? Some of the Supporting People grant goes to pay for that grant administration currently, presumably, does it?

It's only a very small percentage of it. So, the total budget is £124.4 million for Supporting People, and I think, as it comes down to local authorities, it works out at about £123.6 million. So, that additional about £800,000—some of that is top-sliced for things like the SAIL research and some other pieces of research that have been undertaken. The RDC posts are top-sliced from that budget, and it's my understanding that the Supporting People officers—although you would need to check this—were also funded from that top-slice. But the rest of the funds that go down to local authorities are spent on services. There was a small amount of funding that was funding Supporting People officers within local authorities, but, after the Welsh Government reviews, there has been a process in place to remove that funding, so local authorities—I know they're picking up the officer costs themselves to disinvest from that.

So, maybe something, Chair, that we can ask for further information on is a breakdown identifying the cost of administration of Supporting People, but, presumably, of the other funds as well, because if the theory is that the front line will be protected because this £13 million cut will only reflect simplified administration, well, we need to have the costs of administration currently to see whether that could possibly be true, even in an optimistic scenario.

We've covered the issue of the impact on other statutory services in Rhianon's earlier supplementary. I'd just like, finally, to touch on this issue of the different cost, apparently, between different regions, and what lies behind that. The Welsh Government has said that it's going to commission some further data, really, to try and drill down further, prompted by the auditor general's report, on what lies behind that. How do you think that we can best assess the relative value for money for the services within Supporting People, while recognising, when you are comparing, sometimes you're comparing apples and pears a little bit?

So, you're talking the costs of individual projects.

I suppose the important bit, which is what you've said, is to make sure you are only comparing like with like, really. Floating support services, where support goes into people's own homes, are undoubtedly cheaper than static projects where you have to provide a building and all sorts of other services around housing management responsibilities, and keeping people safe. So, comparing those two doesn’t work at all.

16:20

I suppose what I’m actually getting at is the widespread variation in cost between regions.

So, the funding formula.

Yes. It is related, because obviously if you’ve got a different bundle of projects in a region, then it’s going to be difficult to compare, but some degree of comparison is necessary. So, how do you think we can best make sure that we’re getting the best value for money across Wales in getting data on cost on a regional basis? Because, on the face of it, there’s quite a wide variation, isn’t there?

I suppose there are two elements to that, really. One, we’ve been at a disadvantage through the current funding distribution formula. And when the new governance arrangements were introduced in 2012, Gwent was set to have a rise in budget for the following three years, and we did have some indicative figures that were released from Welsh Government. So, I suppose it comes back to whether you’re going to be a winner or a loser within that funding redistribution. But the conversations about redistribution and the correct formula have been going on for quite a long time, and do need to be resolved, so, again, whether it’s working and pulling in some external persons that have experience around this to do that piece of work is probably the way forward. But it does need to be resolved because, coming from Gwent, there are services that we need to commission, but we can’t, because local authorities aren’t receiving the amount of money they should.

Presumably, with 100 per cent flexibility on the horizon, it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to compare even local authority to local authority, because they’ll all be doing very, very different things with that bundle of five programmes.

Yes. Again, I don’t really understand how the Supporting People budget is protected, and then from April there’s 100 per cent flexibility in some local authorities. That’s a very mixed message that’s being delivered: that the Supporting People budget is protected for two years, and then we have local authorities that are going to have 100 per cent flexibility. So, there needs to be some clarity around that. My understanding is there was going to be guidance issued, so I suppose we look forward to receiving that.

I think it’s fair to say as well that all of those five or six funding areas at the moment have very different outcomes frameworks in terms of how they’re evidencing the work that they’re doing. So, you’re right: comparisons would become even more of a challenge than they currently are.

Angela Lee 16:22:49