Collaboration seems to be the buzzword at the moment. Well, that and delivery. Which I guess makes a blog article about delivery through collaboration particularly relevant to Welsh politics at the moment.
Social services are one of the most important functions of local authorities in Wales at present. It is delivered to many disabled and older people living in each area and can have a massive impact on the quality of life experienced by those in receipt of services. It may not be as much of a local hot button issue as bins or parking, but for those affected, the consequence of good or bad service can be life-altering.
However, these services are also amongst the most expensive delivered by local authorities. Take Cardiff for example, where 22% of the Council’s net budget was spent on Adult and Children’s Services in 2010-11. This means when times get tough, you can understand why local authorities look at these budgets when they are considering their spending for the year.
But this can lead to reduced outcomes for disabled people. Cutting budgets can, if not managed correctly, lead to service closures or increased eligibility criteria for care services. Thankfully, in Wales, no local authority had to increase their eligibility criteria last year.
So how can you ensure that if a budget is cut, services to disabled people do not suffer? Scope Cymru has recently been working with the think tank Demos to produce a report called Coping with the Cuts. The report explores the impact of local cuts on disabled people and disability-related services, looking not just at the budgets and whether they have been cut or not, but what the impact of this may have been for disabled people in that area.
The results in Wales showed something quite different to those results in England. While the scores given to each local authority are not comparable between England and Wales (some measures were not used in Wales, such as the impact on direct payments due to the relatively low uptake in Wales) but one area where a comparison can be made is in budget.
The research shows that only 22% of local authorities in England increased their spending on social services, compared to 55% in Wales. No doubt this is a result of the Welsh Government giving a significantly better settlement to local authorities than that received by their English counterparts.
Although budget alone is not an indicator of success. In fact, Anglesey was deemed by Demos to have the third best coping score, despite a social services budget cut of almost 5%.
Which brings us back to collaboration. The Demos report shows that there is much that local authorities are doing in Wales that is mitigating the impact of challenging times. This needs to be captured. Why was Anglesey able to get such a good coping score when Monmouth received such a poor one despite similar budget changes?
The actions of those that are performing well are often not radical. One of the most important things that can be done is involving disabled people in decision-making processes. Service users are most often the experts on how services can be improved and know what they need better than anyone else ever could.
If you want to know more about what each local authority did, you can find details on every local authority at http://disability-cuts-map.demos.co.uk/
Whatever their individual actions are though, it is clear that local authorities can learn from each other. The Minister for Local Government is pressing local authorities to collaborate, whether you agree with his methods or not, along with so many other reports that call for ‘joined up thinking’ or ‘partnership working’ over the years make the case why this is important.
Now local authorities have to rise to this challenge and deliver the services that they all have the potential to.