Staffordshire council is in the process of setting up Independent Futures, which will provide assessments and brokerage for people of all ages with learning disabilities or autism and those under 18 with a physical or sensory impairment. The service is designed to provide more seamless care for disabled people through the allocation of a single key worker to people and their families, who would work with those with lifelong conditions through childhood into adulthood.
The council also believes Independent Futures will help promote independence for disabled people, reduce bureaucracy and avoid crisis management through the provision of lifelong support planning. It is also designed to improve support to people who do not meet eligibility criteria, who, it is claimed, would receive better signposting to universal services.
While it is initially being launched as an in-house service, the council is considering whether it should be outsourced in future, either as a new social enterprise run in part by staff and service users or through sale to a private company. The council set up a company in the name of Independent Futures Staffordshire Limited last year so that a structure is in place to externalise it should that be decided. A consultation will be launched later in the year on how the service should be developed.
Unison’s Staffordshire council branch said it backed the aims of Independent Futures but was concerned about the consequences of the service being externalised. “Our members believe in the overriding principles of Independent Futures, the provision of quality, consistent social care as part of an all-age service, without the traditional split of adults’/children’s services, however members remain concerned at the overhanging threat of potential externalisation at some future point, which could mean social care being provided from a number of routes which would not be directly accountable to the community,” said branch secretary Steve Elsey.
Dave Dennison, a retired local government consultant whose daughter has learning disabilities and receives services from the council, said he also shared the objectives of Independent Futures but said these would be put at risk by externalising the service rather than retaining it in-house. He warned that externalisation would weaken the accountability of the service to local residents, while a social enterprise would struggle to manage the administrative and staffing costs of the service more cheaply than the council, which can benefit from economies of scale.
While councils were used to managing contracts with private providers of direct care services, this model had not been applied to “such a sensitive task as learning disability assessments”. Any such company would have significant negotiating advantages over the council in the event that the contract needed to be negotiated, because the council would not have an alternative provider available to deliver its statutory obligations, warned Dennison. “The lines of accountability for the assessment service are well-established and clear whilst it remains part of the county council. This clarity is lost in any scenario in which the organisation is externalised,” he added.
Source: Community Care
21st August 2013