|Adam Price AC|
|Lee Waters AC|
|Neil Hamilton AC|
|Nick Ramsay AC|
|Rhianon Passmore AC|
|Vikki Howells AC|
|Huw Vaughan Thomas||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office|
|Mark Child||Cadeirydd, Pwyllgor Cydweithredol Rhanbarthol y Bae Gorllewinol|
|Chair, Western Bay Regional Collaborative Committee|
|Matthew Mortlock||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Rachel Evans||Arweinydd Cefnogi Pobl, Awdurdod Cydgysylltu Dinas a Sir Abertawe|
|Supporting People Lead, City and County of Swansea Co-ordinating Authority|
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|3. Y Rhaglen Cefnogi Pobl gan Lywodraeth Cymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 4||3. The Welsh Government’s Supporting People Programme: Evidence Session 4|
|2. Papurau i'w Nodi||2. Papers to Note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o'r Cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Meeting|
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 rhain 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.
I welcome members of the committee to the Public Accounts Committee this afternoon. Headsets are available in the room for translation and for sound amplification. Can Members please ensure any electronic devices are on silent? In an emergency, please follow the directions from the ushers. We've received one apology today, from Mohammad Asghar. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point? No. Okay, thank you.
This is the fourth 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, and, during that time, if Members would like any other additional witnesses to be brought before the committee, we can arrange that. Can I thank our witnesses for agreeing to be with us today? Would you like to give your name and position for our Record or Proceedings?
Hi. I'm Mark Child, I'm cabinet member for health and well-being on Swansea council and chair of the Western Bay regional collaborative committee.
I'm Rachel Evans. I'm principal officer for commissioning, prevention and well-being in Swansea local authority.
Great. We've got a number of questions for you, so we'll try to get through those as painlessly as possible. If I'm moving things on, it's just so that we can get through the most questions. So, if I kick off with the first one: how might the Welsh Government improve communication about the priorities for the programme and the impact of wider developments such as the supported accommodation review? Mark.
I'll have a go at starting, then. Thank you. I think the first thing they need to be is sure of what they need Supporting People to do themselves before they start communicating down the road, because there's been a number of different letters going out and proposals of, 'This and that should be the priority', and it's a very wide-ranging project covering a large number of different individuals and different terms of work, and it would be useful if we had a settled view on what the priorities were and what the expectations were.
Yes, I would agree with that. I think the communication has been generally quite good from Welsh Government. They've been very supportive over the years, but I think there's a need to recognise that the programme is quite far-reaching; it covers a huge range of client groups from what we traditionally would understand as community care type projects and a whole range of other client groups. I think it would be very beneficial to have some consolidation of those priorities at a Welsh Government level to assist local and regional planning, and especially to ensure that our strategic commissioning strategies are focused on the right areas.
Can I come back on that? Clearly we've got the super-grant, or the merged grant, being proposed and possibly implemented, and, ahead of that, we would like to know where the Supporting People initiative and priorities sit within that. Because there's a danger—we have a fear of some of it being lost if it's merged in with an even wider group of aims and targets. And I think Supporting People is something that the Welsh Government should be proud of. It has been a successful programme and others, I am sure, look at Supporting People in Wales as a model that they might want to follow. So, I think it's really important that we don't lose that in Wales with any changes that come forward.
In regard to that comment, that clearly is not the intention in terms of the amalgamation, in terms of being able to be prudent about administrative costing. We'll come to questions later about outcome frameworks. Do you feel that there's sufficient rigour in terms of being able to assess the purpose of the Supporting People grant, bearing in mind the comment that there's still some ambiguity from your perspective as to the intention of Welsh Government?
I think, because of the nature of what Supporting People funds, it's really difficult to get a one-size-fits-all measure of its success and of various regional collaborative committees' ability to deliver it. But I think there is work needed to improve how it is assessed, and how—. Each individual project has its own targets and internal assessments, and the commissioning arrangements around that, but if there was a framework where we knew what could be measured, and some kind of longer term analysis of the effect of various projects, I think that would be really useful.
Can I follow that up, Chair? So, in terms of the rigour of that, there has been, from previous witnesses, evidence given to this committee that there is concern that the raison d'être for Supporting People will get lost in the mêlée around that amalgamation of grant. So, could you just give me a comment on that statement?
We received very strong evidence from Cymorth Cymru amongst others that were concerned about the point that Rhianon Passmore's made.
I think that's a legitimate concern. The Supporting People grant is ring-fenced and targeted at the aims that came out of the Aylward review. Although I suggested that they might want to be renewed and reviewed, I think that the principle behind that is something that is very important and has been effective to date. We wouldn't want to lose that in the mêlée of a variety of grants aimed at a wider variety of goals. So, I think it's important that we sustain a Supporting People ethos within whatever we're doing going forward.
However, what I would suggest is the amalgamation of the grants does provide some opportunities as well. I think it is an opportunity to explore those, and I think anything that provides an opportunity to reduce bureaucracy and improve that flexibility between grant schemes allows local authorities and the regions to focus on areas where the populations require the greatest level of support, that is an opportunity. I think if it does allow us to reduce bureaucracy and come up with shared and common goals, and retain some of that individual identity at the same time, that's an incredible benefit that needs to be explored.
You will accept, though, that there are some dangers, as some organisations have pointed out, with a lack of transparency as to where the money is coming from.
Yes. I think we'd need some very clear and strong governance arrangements around that. We have a very good regional collaborative approach in terms of Supporting People, but, looking at amalgamating a whole set of other grants—I think we'd need to really sit down and look at the detail around the governance arrangements around that, and to look at how the local interface can support some of those regional opportunities. So, I think that the detail needs to be really thought out, but I'm sure that there are some opportunities there.
Thank you. I note that you've come out fighting about the Welsh Government's shortcomings in the management of this programme. The evidence that we have is that your collaborative is the weakest in Wales. When the auditor general looked, he found no examples of regional projects for the Western Bay area. So, is that because of the Welsh Government's deficiencies or is that something that you, as a group of organisations, have failed to do?
I think it's probably a combination of a range of things, really. I think, right at the very start, there was some uncertainty around the purpose of the regional collaborative committee, around what its function and identity were and what it should be focused on. I think, right at the very start, there were some really good lessons to be learned in terms of the administration process and the bureaucracy around that. There was a lot of time and effort spent on trying to get that right and coming up with a set of terms of reference that provided some regional meaning. And I think that has provided some impact on the ability to move things forward.
However, that said, there have been some really good achievements as a result of the regional working—the fact that the local teams have developed some really good relationships, very strong partnerships between providers and landlord representatives and other stakeholders that form part of the regional collaborative. And, actually, whilst we may not have commissioned an actual project through the RCC, there has been lots of commissioning activity that has taken place as a result of this formalised way of working. So, the teams have worked really closely together to look at coming up with common methods of analysing data at a regional level, they've come up with a common method of analysing the outcomes data, they've come up with a common methodology for monitoring questionnaires. All of that is commissioning information that feeds in to our commissioning strategy and allows us to set priorities and also reduces bureaucracy for providers so they're not having to do things in a multitude of ways to provide the same outcome for individual local authorities.
So, I think things have really progressed in Western Bay. We've taken an opportunity to look strategically at the focus of the regional collaborative and to look at how that can be effective at a strategic level rather than it being quite a bureaucratic operational meeting, and we've really taken the opportunity to look at the business cycle around that. So, I think things have really progressed since then.
I think I accept that we are probably not the most collaborative, but I think that, as my colleague has just outlined, there's been a significant degree of integration taking place. But we need to step further if we're going to be more collaborative, which is one of the goals that Aylward set out.
If you think that you've not been the most collaborative, what have the barriers been?
As my colleague outlined, I'd—
But those barriers would have been common to the other regions as well and they seem to have managed to make more progress than you.
I can't explain. Sorry.
I think that's because a lot of the initial stages were focused on bureaucracy, which inhibited us from undertaking some of those more strategic discussions.
Well, I think the starting positions were also quite different. As an example, Gwent were already working in a regional structure, quite some time before the regional collaborative committees were established. So, they had quite good ways of working, established methodologies and a way of working that was built into their structures, and that worked quite well. So, I think they had an opportunity to build on that whereas other local authorities may have been in a different starting position. However, what we have done is used those opportunities where other regional collaboratives have been working well to look at, 'Well, what is it that makes a difference? How can we follow some of those good patterns?' and to look at how we can replicate that within the Western Bay area.
Could I ask Mr Mark Child, following his comment that he couldn't explain why this was the case: do you have any confidence that things will get better, or do you think the regional model in the Western Bay uniquely is not worth pursuing?
I have confidence that they will get better. Sorry, I've chaired this once, so I'm fairly new to the committee. It seems to me as though the structures are in place to now move on to be much more collaborative. If we're doing things the same way in each of the three authorities, which may be two in the not-too-distant future—seeing what happens with Bridgend—it's going to be a lot easier to be collaborative. And we've got the same people around the table who we're going to be collaborating with, and commissioning with, and that sort of thing, so I'm confident that, that element of the five ways of working, we will be able to make progress on in the future.
The auditor general says in his report that, in his view, the committees lack teeth, and, in particular, when it came to effective scrutiny by local authorities on spending decisions, they weren't well placed. Is that a criticism you think is fair?
I hope it's not a criticism that will be able to be levelled in the future.
Well, I think it is criticism, but about the system in general, not just your own position.
I think the relationship of the RCC within the Western Bay partnership, or the RCCs within the partnerships, needs to be strengthened. It appears to me as though the RCCs have been moved into the partnership arrangements rather than grown out of the partnership arrangements, if you know what I mean. And so, structurally, there aren't the responsibility lines and direction between the board of the partnership and the RCC that perhaps could direct it more strongly.
The resources available to the RCC itself are small and rely on the work, in separate organisations, of the individuals. So, I think—. Should there be a more direct responsibility and accountability? Because it reports by exception to the board, rather than reports under normal process. So, who decides what the exception is? It seems to be the RCCs. So, perhaps it shouldn't be the RCCs, perhaps the board should have greater sight about what's going on within the RCCs, or direction to them.
In your written evidence, which is quite punchy—and I mean that as a compliment rather than a criticism—you make a number of very interesting points, one of which is an austerity point, which is that, when local authorities are only able to fund statutory services, the more strategic regional ones won't be prioritised and will fall by the wayside. Can you say what can be done to mitigate that? Because, obviously, Welsh Government wants you to move in a more strategic regional approach, but you're pointing out that the other pressures councils are under may make that doomed to failure from the start.
I think, in the submission, what we wanted to highlight was some of the concerns that provider organisations would have, and that's certainly been a concern that's been echoed through the Cymorth communication as well. From our point of view, the mitigation lies in making sure that commissioning is focused on evidence and population need, and, in order to achieve that, what needs to happen is to have some good, robust commissioning strategies in place that are based on population analysis.
One of the things that we've had in place, and we've been doing for a number of years, is looking at having some very detailed commissioning strategies and looking at how that commissioning is based on evidence. We've been putting together a population needs assessment, which Supporting People has contributed to. That's a requirement under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and using the local commissioning groups and the RCC to look at, 'Well, what is the strategic direction?' in terms of where spend needs to be utilised. The commissioning priorities at the moment for the RCC are a good example of how that is a fair spread across all of those client groups, where there's a clear focus on homelessness-type prevention services as well as community care and looking at early intervention and prevention. So, it is about using the RCC to scrutinise and ensure that commissioning decisions are based on evidence.
You also make the point in your evidence about all the different types of collaborative governance arrangements that are in place, cluttering the landscape, if you like—and, particularly, you point to the housing strategy networks. Can you just elaborate briefly on the problem that causes?
Well, I think what we need to do is recognise that Supporting People is a model of service that fits in with a range of other types of models of service. So, when we're looking at a commissioning strategy for any one population group, we need to see that in the context of a continuum of support. So, what we would expect to see—for example, in Western Bay, there's a lot of work being undertaken at the moment in terms of mental health and learning disability to look at identifying a set of regional strategic priorities, understanding where Supporting People fits in to meet those population needs, and understanding what an optimum model would look like, so where would Supporting People fit into that that continuum of services. So, it's about ensuring that Supporting People is visible within all of those joint strategic commissioning processes that are already under way at a regional level.
And what governance—? Finally, what governance changes do you think you need to make to make that work?
I think it's just echoing Mark's point around the role of the partnership board in understanding what the strategic map looks like, understanding what the priorities across the board are and looking at where Supporting People fits into that continuum to ensure that those strategic priorities are met. So, I think it's about seeing that, rather than being a separate piece of work, that fits into a much wider set of strategic priorities.
So, you think the current governance arrangements can deal with that, do you?
I think within Western Bay, yes, they can, but I think it's about making sure that there is that visibility within those commissioning strategies, and that certainly is happening at the moment.
Just briefly on the austerity and statutory services side, clearly some of the client group that benefit from Supporting People are not—what's the word—the most attractive, sexy, whatever, marketable client groups, but they're just as needy. And should the clarity of the Supporting People role diminish, then the local authorities or whoever may well not prioritise those client groups when they've got other statutory services that are equally as needy for money. So, I think it's important to keep people that have recently left jail or people that are suffering from mental health issues or whatever up there high on our visibility, and Supporting People does that. As my colleague was saying, as Rachel was saying, it needs to be there as a stream in our considerations.
And I think the scrutiny comes within the RCC—the fact that we have provider representation and landlord representation allows that level of scrutiny as well. It does provide that opportunity to question and challenge and to ask the right questions around why certain things have been prioritised. And it forces us as local authority officers to provide that evidence and be able to justify those strategic priorities.
But you understand how we might have greater confidence in your ability to do that if you'd come up with a single project under the regional collaborative arrangements, and you haven't.
We have got a cross-border project that's in place. Interestingly, that pre-dated the emergence of the RCC, so it kind of illustrated the fact that local authorities were already working together in partnership and had the ability to commission a strategic project prior to the RCC being in place.
I think the other thing that we need to mention as well is that a lot of the focus of the RCC has been, in recent years, on looking at the reduction in funding and how we work together as local authorities to mitigate that reduction. As an example, one of the things that we've done is look at coming up with a shared financial impact assessment process. That's something that we've done in Swansea for a number of years, which provides a kind of set criteria to explore how funding reductions are made on a strategic level rather than giving an across-the-board cut. And that was a co-produced piece of work with providers at the time, and is something that works really, really well, based on good financial information. So, those reductions are made in the areas where we think we can safely make those reductions. So, that piece of work was shared with Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend, and that was an example of using a piece of work in a collaborative way across the region. So, a lot of our work has been focused on those reductions.
When does that date from?
I would say that's over the last two years.
Because it's interesting, back in 2015, so two years ago, a sub-group of the Supporting People National Advisory Board found 'limited or no action' taken in regard to regional working in the Western Bay. You say this pre-dates the arrangements—this would have happened anyway. The audit done two years ago didn't spot that. Why is that?
I'm not sure.
Well, it doesn't sound accurate, because the financial impact assessment process and the joint working that we've done is certainly something that was undertaken as part of the RCC.
So, that's two studies that have been done of your progress and neither of them, you think, represents an accurate picture.
Well, that provides—. Well, it doesn't appear so, no.
Thank you, Chair. Just picking up on my colleague Lee Waters's point about the impact of austerity upon the Supporting People programme in the Western Bay region, obviously austerity has led to budget pressures and funding uncertainty, so how specifically has that impacted on your service planning and delivery?
It's been difficult to plan without the assurance of a budget commitment. I think some of the difficulties have been having annualised budgets and not being in a position to be clear on the longer-term funding arrangements. Whilst we've got longer-term contracts in place with providers to provide them with that reassurance, in terms of undertaking strategic planning, that's been far more difficult when you have annualised budgets, and, often, that budget allocation isn't made available—that information isn't made available—until quite late in the year. So, it does make it quite difficult to have a long-term view in relation to priority setting.
And, in your opinion, is that what's led to the change between the balance of fixed and floating support? Because that's certainly a theme that we've come across during our scrutiny sessions. Would you say that that national change, with a lot more emphasis on the floating support, has also been seen within your region too?
I think there are a number of reasons why that could be the position—I think the focus on early intervention and prevention, and recognising, actually, that to provide some more preventative services at a much lower level could actually provide a lot better outcomes. So, there has been some strategic focus in looking at what we could do differently and how services can move away from creating the level of dependence that sometimes we've seen within some of those methods of working, and to look at creative ways of providing people with solutions that aren't necessarily focused on services at all—you know, looking at people's own resilience, looking at the communities in which they live, looking at how they can be supported in a far more preventative way, which delays the requirement for far more intrusive levels of service.
So, I think that's been partly, maybe, part of the strategic driver. Also, I think what we do need to recognise is some of the legacy arrangements that we've had in place. With some of the 24-hour provision right at the very start of the programme there were quite a lot of what were called de-registered care homes where the level of funding in place needed to be scrutinised in terms of whether they were cost effective, whether they actually provided value for money, and whether they actually were reasonable in cost. So, there's been quite a lot of work undertaken in terms of scrutinising those costs and providing a level of funding that is more relevant to the type and level of service that they provide.
So, that's provided an opportunity, really, to commission in a different way and reinvest into other services. I think it's also recognised the opportunity to develop other areas where there have been less levels of provision. In Swansea, we've increased the level of domestic abuse provision, looking at refuges and floating support services and safe houses, so it's provided that opportunity to shift the balance to provide those more preventative services at a targeted area. So, I think there's a combination of things, really, that have been at play and have resulted in that shift of balance.
Can I just add, briefly—? I think one of the key things about having an annual is staff retention, staff job security, their career progression, and things like that. If we're dealing late in the day with a one-year allocation, it does make that side of things, and retaining the professional and experienced staff, more difficult if they've got an opportunity of a more secure—as they see it—job elsewhere, which is why although I don't necessarily agree with everything the Wales Audit Office said, its recommendation that we move to three-year indicative funding would be very useful.
Thank you. If I could just pick up on a point that you raised there as well, Rachel, when you talked about the nature of the support that you're providing changing because of different demands, really, from the client groups, how easy or how challenging is it to put in place that support based on well-evidenced needs, rather than looking at historical patterns? That's another line of inquiry that we've been keen to focus on with our witnesses.
I think that's something that we have actually done quite well over a number of years, and I think it's about making good use of information from a variety of sources—you know, recognising that we work with our providers and we see those as strategic partners and they provide a vital source of information in terms of the type of people that they're working with, the types of trends and types of support needs that people are presenting, and the changing pattern of that over the years. So, that's been a huge source of information: having very regular provider forums to allow that transfer of information, one-to-one contract liaison meetings with individuals, the outcomes information itself, speaking to individuals—you know, understanding what life is like for them and what really matters to people, what does 'good' look like for them. That's been an absolute vital piece of information. It's about harnessing all of that and using our strategic commissioning groups to look at, 'Well, what does this evidence tell us and what do we need to do to change it?' Some of it is about changing the provision that we currently have. So, how could services work in a slightly different way to meet those demands, and how can we make services as flexible as possible? And some of it is around, 'Well, actually, we need to have a commissioning strategy that allows us to commission in a very different way and commission a whole set of services.' But it is a difficult—. You know, it's not easy to do, and that takes time to move to a position where we are confident that those needs are met in the right way, which doesn't wholly rely on services as well. As I say, it's about a combination of factors.
Thank you. And finally, as you change that provision, then, have you identified any issues with the eligibility of expenditure within the Supporting People programme in your area?
In what way? Sorry—I'm not quite sure what you're asking me.
Well, for example, we've taken evidence from other people where certain groups, perhaps, have been included within the Supporting People funding within one area but not in others.
Okay. Right. Well, commenting from a Swansea perspective, we've historically taken a very broad view around eligibility of services, and we've identified that, actually, anything that's meaningful to the individual and helps them maintain their accommodation and helps them maintain their well-being goals is eligible, and I think it's very difficult to start looking at what's eligible and what's ineligible in that I think sometimes you can tie yourself up in knots. So, I think the better way of working is to look at things far more holistically with social care colleagues and with homelessness colleagues. Health colleagues are looking at, 'Well, what are the shared goals that we want to achieve and how can we make best use of our combined income to meet those goals in the best way?' And I think that kind of moves you away from getting tied up in some of the details to taking a far more strategic approach to what really matters.
Change is—or can be, anyway—always disconcerting, especially in an era of tight budgets. There is a new funding formula in train, which the national advisory board has recommended should be in place by 2018-19, but it looks as though that's likely to slip a year. Can you tell us what, as far as you're concerned, the key issues that need to be considered are in developing and implementing a new funding formula, and how much dialogue you've had with Welsh Government so far in this? Because clearly the aim is to redistribute programme funding to areas of greatest geographical need, which everybody would be in favour of, but there will be losers as well as winners in that project, which poses a challenge for you.
I think one of the key issues is to learn the lessons from the work that's been undertaken so far. I think there were pros and cons to the interim formula, but actually, what worked in the development of that was the co-productive nature of developing that formula where there was a wide variety of partners around the table that understood the issues and the impacts associated with certain elements that were contained within that interim formula. I think there is a need to revisit that, because it is clearly out of date and there are some aspects of that that are no longer in place, or may have an unintended consequence. But I think it does need to be identified as a key piece of work.
I think from a local authority point of view, there's clear recognition that there are local authority areas that didn't do so well at the transitional housing benefit stage, and actually need to be in a position where they have the opportunity to have funding, and that opportunity to develop services that meet their population need. However, equally, I think there needs to be recognition that those areas that may have been captured quite well at those THB stages were based on the population that existed. There were vulnerable people in place, so there is a danger that the needs of that population group may not be met in those areas that didn't do so well. So, I think there needs to be a real balanced, measured approach to looking at how the funding can be redistributed and allow local authorities the time to undertake strategic focus on what areas could be decommissioned, while recognising that, in those areas that did do well, the vulnerability still exists and people are being supported to maintain their accommodation who otherwise would be homeless or would be in far more intrusive and institutionalised forms of care.
Councillor Child, Swansea has fared rather differently from Western Bay, because you'll get an extra £0.33 million, roughly, whereas Swansea will lose something like £2.25 million. So, that poses various challenges. Would you agree with this approach, or have you got any points that you would like us to take into account?
I think Rachel is exactly right that the needs—. With the previous one, we had a significant input into the discussion before it was arrived at, and I think this replacement also needs a significant input and consultation around Wales before it's finalised. Nobody is going to get enough money, so how are we going to do that in the fairest possible way? How are we going to weigh the different levels of needs of rural and urban, older and younger, city centre to towns or whatever? It needs to be done in a transparent way, so that people can see it's being done in a reasonable manner. That's all I'd add to that.
So, what do you think of it so far? The question I did ask was: what dialogue have you had so far and what inputs have you been able to make? Has there been to and fro between you and Welsh Government? Are you confident that this is—
My understanding, and I'm willing to be corrected, is that I'm not aware of any as yet. But the concern that I am aware of is that the overall pot is reducing. But we're not sure where that's going to come out of. Is it £13 million or £12 million? Something of that kind of order is going to come out of the pot. So, whatever funding formula you use, if that comes out of it, it's going to damage everybody, and that's our concern.
And you've made some good points, which others have made as well, about vulnerable groups who don't have the strongest voice, perhaps, in political terms, and it's very important that they should have a proper voice and their needs be considered in the context of this exercise as well. One of the aims of these changes, of course, is to focus more on preventative measures as well. So there will presumably be long-term budgetary advantages to that, but getting from where we are now to where we want to be is always a difficult process, and there's a danger of people losing out in the meantime. What do you see as the risks and possible benefits of the provision of housing-related support and of establishing an integrated early intervention and prevention grant?
I think it kind of goes back to what I mentioned right at the very start. I think there are opportunities. Anything that provides opportunities in terms of reducing bureaucracy and increasing flexibility and allowing funding to be targeted where it's needed most does provide a huge amount of opportunity. The risks are around being able to manage that in the best way and ensuring that there are really strong governance arrangements in place. So, yes, those would be the key issues.
Has any work been carried out already in Swansea or the wider Western Bay region to map the overlaps and the synergies between the different grants that the Welsh Government wants to bring together within this single grant structure for the future, so that you can therefore have a better idea of where you can make savings and free up resources on the one hand, and on the other hand identify duplications?
Yes. We've undertaken quite a lot of work in relation to that. We used one of the regional collaborative committee development days to really focus on that as a piece of work, so looking at what the role was of Communities First, Families First, looking at the employment programmes to look at what their aims and objectives were, to look at the outcomes that they were trying to achieve and to look at how we can align those in the best possible way, and looking at opportunities to collaborate. Certainly in Swansea—and I think Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend would be the same—we have used the opportunity in terms of the 5 per cent virement opportunity to look at how we can use funding far more flexibly and look for opportunities to spend that in the most robust way, and using our local commissioning processes to work together in a far more joined-up approach to identify those opportunities far more quickly. So, yes, I think the groundwork for that has certainly started, and the structural work is starting to fall into place quite well.
Does the Welsh Government need to do any more to reach a well-informed decision than is currently in train about what to replace the existing formula with?
I think, picking up on Rachel's point, although we've started the groundwork, we need to be aware of the different pulls that there are on that grant and then, as I said earlier, ensure that the Supporting People element—although we might be working out how it can be flexible, but that means flexible to build on Supporting People and we need to try and ensure that it's not flexible to reduce the work we're doing with Supporting People and aid others. I think that's where I'm at. I mean, it could be a tool, but I think the structures need to be in place to scrutinise that, both from Welsh Government and then within the regional partnership to ensure that that is the case.
And we are aware that some local authorities will be kind of testing that approach and will be 100 per cent pathfinders. I suppose our observations are about whether there will be enough opportunity to evaluate and scrutinise those local authorities where that 100 per cent opportunity has been in place, to look at what worked, what didn't work, what needs to change and what needs to be in place to ensure that those opportunities are fully utilised in other local authorities.
Your answers have spurred a lot of interest. Rhianon Passmore—a supplementary question.
Thank you. It's really to extrapolate on that point, in terms of: do you think, then, that RCCs are best placed in terms of scrutiny of local government spends in the new future of integrated grants? And, consequent to that, in terms of your governance, what needs to change if that is to be the way forward from your perspective?
The improvements that I think I've mentioned—. I think there needs to be an expectation, or more, from Welsh Government about the role of RCCs in here to monitor local government spend in this area, and that can be exercised via the regional partnerships.
But, my question really is: are they fit for purpose? And if not, what needs to change to be able to effectively scrutinise that spend, moving forward, in a new climate, in a new world of integration, in terms of pathfinder authorities? Or are they optimal at the moment?
I would hesitate to say they were optimal at the moment. I think they are there to do that job and they do that job to a degree at the moment. Beyond increasing their accountability, I'm not sure where else you would go to make them better at doing this job—
I suppose my question, really, is: if you don't feel that they're optimal at the moment, what would need to happen to make them be that governance model, that vehicle, to be able to effectively scrutinise?
I think there's a degree of public visibility to the work they do that is possibly not there at the moment—so, the ability to interview and hold to account in a stronger way than they do now. I think the Welsh Government—yes, I think I've outlined it. I don't know if Rachel's got anything to add.
I think the challenge is that the amalgamation of the grant is one thing, but it's still a locally funded pot of money. So, I think the challenges lie in the fact that local authorities still have a local allocation, and the same issues will be echoed in a much larger grant, as is the case at the moment in terms of the Supporting People element. So, the Supporting People money is still a local grant that's provided to local authorities; local authorities are the grant-receiving body and, ultimately, hold that risk. So, it's making sure that those structures are robust enough to be able to scrutinise at a regional level.
Well, I mean—
You could be giving scrutiny a role at the partnership level to scrutinise Supporting People.
I would agree with that. I think there's a role for the partnership board in terms of that regional governance, in terms of where the regional collaborative committee reports to at a far more systematic level.
I think what you might be getting at, correct me if I'm wrong, is where should the grant money go to. Should it go to local authorities or should it go to some kind of regional organisation?
And would that get around some of the problems, some of the issues that we've been facing recently with the changes to the way that the Supporting People grant is broken up, effectively?
I think there needs to be—. We've got a variety of regional set-ups and possible regional set-ups out there being talked about, and mergers of local government and stuff like that. I think it might well be the way to go in the end. Whether we're ready to go there yet, I don't know whether Western Bay, for example, is ready to deal with the Supporting People grant, but I'd be interested—or any of the regional partnership groups for that matter. But, I think there needs to be a way of evidencing, going back to the collaborative point that was made earlier, a much more collaborative approach amongst the local authorities, and that would be through a partnership viewing what they do in a stronger way than the RCC is able to now.
Yes, I just want to go back to the evidence that you provided in writing for us about the issues that need to be considered in developing and implementing a new funding formula. You say that:
'The development of any formula for distribution of grant should be free on any perverse incentives related to performance measures applied by WG.'
Could you perhaps expand a bit on what these perverse incentives might be?
I did ask when it went in, 'What do we mean by that?' I understand that the count of rough sleepers, for example, is an element in the calculation. So, to gain more money you would count as many rough sleepers as you possibly could. Is that right?
It was part of the interim formula. It used the homelessness measure as part of that funding formula, which was weighted at 30 per cent. However, there was a recognition at the time that that element of the formula would change. It was going to be reviewed, and as it was an interim formula, it was the only thing that was in place at the time that reflected the homelessness aspect of the formula. So, I suppose it's just making it clear that, in establishing a new formula, we need to recognise that there could be some elements of that formula that would be counterintuitive.
Right. There are no others as far as you know, are there, other than that one?
I think that's where the thought came from. Clearly, the amount of homelessness or rough sleepers is an element. It's just how much weight you give to the different elements as well.
So the focus on prevention is something that needs to be factored in.
Yes, just more on monitoring and evaluation—I'd just like to ask a little bit about your evidence on that. I think Mark Child just alluded to one of the unintended consequences of the way that we've measured this programme, because it is so big and so broad. Clearly, there's a very chequered history behind it with regard to research and evaluation.
Some of the feeling from the sector is that we're trying to measure things that are very difficult to measure.
Having said that, there needs to be an accountability framework. So, do you have any thought about how the Welsh Government could do this in a more effective way?
I think it's always a difficult question. The issue is quantifying what essentially is a subjective process. When you're providing support to people, it is around people's lives, and being able to count that in a measured way is quite difficult. I think the outcomes framework that we have in place was established to really start thinking about outcomes in a very different way and to get providers to start focusing on things that were quite meaningful to people, and to think about what would be the consequences of support if support was provided in the right way. I think the work that we've done in terms of establishing that outcomes framework really did achieve that. It got providers to really focus on those areas that matter.
That said, I think that was certainly work in progress at the time. We established a framework that was recognised that needed to be developed. We recognised that, actually, what would need to happen was we would need to be in a position where we could measure people's journeys to reflect on the progress that people had made, to look at distance travelled. I think the process that we have in place at the moment, whilst it does allow us to ask good pertinent questions and can be used as a can opener, it cannot provide the whole picture. I think it's being quite sensible in commissioning in recognising that, and recognising that, actually, in the way that you evaluate whether somebody has had a good-quality service, there's a range of other mechanisms that need to feed into that.
Didn't you say in your evidence—you gave an example where you think a longitudinal study would be a bit more of a meaningful way of measuring impact? From an accountability point of view it's very difficult to judge whether or not you're spending your money wisely if you're saying, 'Well, judge me at the end of seven years, 10 years or longer.' So, how do you square that particular circle, do you think? How can the Welsh Government get some satisfaction that you're doing a good job, whilst at the same time recognising the complexities of it?
I think it's about pulling all of that information together and recognising that an evaluation of whether something is good comes from a variety of sources. Speaking to people themselves—citizens themselves are a good judge of whether they've made progress and whether they're satisfied and whether they feel that they're far more in control of their own lives. And being able to have those conversations and reflect on their stories to see whether things have changed for them and whether things have got better is a really important part.
So, for this programme alone, you think we should move to a qualitative not a quantitative approach.
I think it's a combination. I think the data has its place. I think that provides some good information, especially in terms of what areas of support matter to people the most. Some of the things that we've used that information for, for example, in Swansea, we've looked at the patterns of support need that people are asking for support for. So, for example, lots of people have been saying that they need support around work and employment. So, actually, that's provided an opportunity to interrogate that in far more detail, to look at what the issues are around that, what the barriers are that people are experiencing and how support providers can provide support in a way that addresses some of those issues. So, that—
You mentioned data there, is that local data or do you think there’s a role for national data here? Because I think I’m right in saying that the Welsh Government are treating the Supporting People grant differently, in terms of the data collected, to other social care outcomes.
Yes. I think that, in itself, provides some issues as well. There is an opportunity to look at coming up with a common set of outcomes, but equally it's about how you use those outcomes in a meaningful way. If you have a high-level set of outcomes, it's about working with organisations and being very clear around the specification in terms of what you expect that organisation to deliver. What you would expect a direct-access hostel to deliver in terms of outcomes might be very, very different to an older person's sheltered housing scheme, or a learning disability 24-hour provision. It is about having really sensible conversations with that organisation and being very clear with the specification at the outset. But I do believe that it is an opportunity to look at the outcomes frameworks, because, at the end of the day, we are dealing with one population group and it isn't fair, often, that we are expected to report on outcomes in a variety of different ways when, actually, we're dealing with one person. It is quite conceivable that one person might have a multitude of service inputs and might have different outcomes frameworks attached to that. So, I think it is an opportunity to rationalise that and have—
There are a couple of points. I think we are trying to be long-term, and so, there is a validity in having an extended data set or analysis of what the long-term outcomes for people are. So, a five or 10-year study of the effect of something, I think, is worthwhile, but clearly you need other measures as well. What I ask is: why are you measuring? In my view, one of the key reasons to measure is to try and work out what best practice is, so that you can identify best practice and then try and replicate that, or learn from that in other places around Wales. So, I think what is important is that the projects themselves, in the commissioning process, have a strong element of analysis, whether that's data collection or however it's done, so that you know that that project is delivering or not delivering, and then you've got a methodology or a communications process to say, 'We think this is doing really well' or We think this is doing really badly—don't copy it' or whatever, so that people around the rest of Wales can learn from it.
I was just going back to that point around quantitative and qualitative information. I just want to emphasise, really, that outcomes do have a really important place and it is right that we collect that information, but it needs to be seen in the context of a wide range of other information that we need to draw conclusions and recommendations from. It's about being able to interrogate that information and come up with sensible conclusions as a result.
Thank you. With regard to specific grants, it's always difficult, isn't it, in terms of being able to assess that person-centred approach and how many outcome frameworks are attached to that person? It seems eminently sensible that we try and rationalise that and make it more sensible, strategically. So, with regard to impact on statutory services, what more would you wish to see done to evaluate the wider impact of Supporting People to strengthen its case, moving forward?
I think we do need to look at the value for money or the money saved in a wider context. It is difficult to know what health or what social services prevention work has been achieved by investing through Supporting People, but I think it is possible to do and we should be looking to do that within the context, as I said, of each commissioning process, because it's not going to be one-size-fits-all to analyse that. But I think it is key to evaluating the overall success of the Supporting People process, as well as of the individual projects if we're able to provide a cost-benefit analysis for health, such as how many times would we have otherwise expected this individual to call on the doctor or go to A&E or whatever.
I think the SAIL data that's being collected at the moment attempts to do that kind of analysis. I don't know if that's happening in other areas, but it seems to me to be a key element in analysing our Supporting People grant, its effectiveness and how much it saves elsewhere.
So, in terms of the impact on statutory services, have you got any comment to make in terms of how we can better evaluate outcomes, and therefore the purpose of the grant? Is there anything specific that comes to mind?
The analysis is being done by Swansea University, so it's an academic analysis, so it's not necessarily something that we can apply to every circumstance because we can't get an university to analyse each one. I think we need to be conscious and we need to sell to the other services that one of our aims here is to prevent need, and to prevent service intervention or further service intervention in the individuals' lives. So, evidence of that is—. Like I said, it's difficult to say what you're preventing, but, clearly, an individual's history may well be part of the information you use to say what the effectiveness of the intervention through Supporting People has been. Sorry, Rachel.
I was just going to say I think the joint commissioning process is an opportunity to achieve that, so rather than Supporting People being, I suppose, looked at separately strategically, there needs to be a combined approach. And I think if the set of priorities that are established at that joint level are the right ones, and the level of Supporting People-type services that are identified are the right ones in terms of meeting that preventative need, then the long-term population analysis should see the pattern change. So, I think it's about being able to work jointly to look at the information, to look at the patterns, to look at whether people's lives have changed for the better, and being able to recognise where those impacts and those inputs have had a positive impact on people's lives. So, I think it's about making sure that that information is pooled collectively with partners.
So, you'd look firmly to a regional collaborative approach in terms of being able to further—
Absolutely, yes. I don't think you can do it separately because we're looking at one population group and it has to be set within a continuum of provision.
Okay. And lastly, in terms of assessment of best value for money—same theme—is there anything that can be changed in your view, from your perspective, to be able to optimise the very difficult landscape that we all exist in now in terms of austerity?
I think it's about having good benchmarking opportunities as well, and I think it's about understanding the costs of services, but also recognising that costs are different across different services for a reason. I think sometimes we look at 24-hour provision and question why some services cost more than others if they're for a similar population group. Actually, it's about having the opportunity to scrutinise the differences on why there are those variations, whether it's down to staffing costs, whether it's down to property costs, and looking at what those differences are so we better understand the cost of providing those services far better, but also understand those differences. So, I think that provides that opportunity to understand value for money better.
On an individual level, I think it's quite straightforward. We work with our providers quite well. We've got clear expectation in terms of the information that they provide, so it's an opportunity to look at expenditure and whether those costs are reasonable, but how they compare across the region, how they compare nationally—it's an opportunity to further explore, I think.
I think, taking the regional point, where health and social services primarily are involved with the regional partnership, if they have a closer relationship to the RCC and what the expectations are from the RCC they should be looking at—or, I would advocate that they're looking at prevention of demand on their services in these times of austerity as well. So, they will be looking at how we're providing Supporting People in a way that prevents demand as well.
Great. Any final question? No, all satisfied. Can I thank Mark Child and Rachel Evans for being with us this afternoon? It's been really helpful. We'll send you a copy of the transcript before it's finalised, just for you to check.
Thank you very much.
Okay, we're topsy-turvy today. We need to go back now to item 2 on the agenda, because our audit team have got through the snow and the delays and are now with us. So, if we can go back, as I say, to item 2. First of all, if we can agree—thank you. Thanks for being with us. If we can go back to the minutes from the meeting held on 4 December—happy to agree the minutes? Any corrections? Hapus.
Secondly, we have a letter. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has written clarifying a number of issues following the Welsh Government's response to the report we considered on 25 September. Are Members happy to note that letter? Would you like to comment on this?
Yes. You've previously agreed that you'll come back to this topic in, I think, spring next year, but I just wonder whether it's worth checking with the Welsh Government what its timetable is and also whether you want the climate change and environment committee to look at this matter. Partly I do this because when you considered my report—or the previous committee considered the report—the concern we had about the environmental effect of realignment was actually wider, it was about how you dealt with the legal and financial implications of relocating perhaps whole communities affected by that realignment. So, I just sort of mention that in case you feel that this justifies retaining it within PAC.
Can I just ask, because I know the Welsh Government says they're going to produce a coastal toolkit—my heart sinks at the reference to yet another toolkit; it is the favourite refuge of the civil service, it seems, when it wants to avoid a difficult subject: it just produces a toolkit—when the audit office has time to have sight of the toolkit, I wonder if you'd be able to report back to us on whether or not it measures up to the challenges we set out?
Happy to do that.
We now need to note the letter from the Minister for Housing and Regeneration clarifying why the Welsh Government did not accept recommendation 1 from our report on the inquiry into the regulatory oversight of housing associations. We considered the Welsh Government's response on 25 September. Happy to note that letter? An update on the implementation of the recommendation has been requested for the spring term, so we can return to the issue then, at the appropriate point.
Moving on to the committee's working practices and procedures and correspondence between the committee and the Welsh Government, following consideration of the Welsh Government responses on coastal flooding and our housing association report, I wrote to the Permanent Secretary to highlight the committee's discontent with the Welsh Government agreeing in principle or partially accepting recommendations but then not fulfilling either of those commitments. Whilst agreeing in principle, I'm sure we all agree—it's sometimes accepted that the Government might accept a recommendation but that there may be a valid reason why it can't accept a recommendation fully, but there does need to be some flexibility. Did you want to comment on this?
Acceptance in principle, in one sense, is right. The main difficulty we're having is with partially accepted, when, actually, the narrative goes on to really set out why they disagree. So, I'd certainly welcome the greater clarity that the Permanent Secretary is proposing here, but I think I'd still be happy if, occasionally, some reports are accepted in principle with then an argument as to how they will be implemented. So, I think this is in the right direction generally.
I was pleased with the reply. We've just noted the letter from Rebecca Evans where she quite clearly sets out why she's rejected one of our proposals, even though I'm not entirely persuaded by the argument she makes, but I'm glad that she's making it straightforwardly. So, I think it's good that that intent is there from the new Permanent Sec, but I think we need to monitor it carefully and where we see evidence of old habits slipping back we need to go back to them and alert them to it.
There does seem to have been, in the past, a use of agreeing in principle or accepting in principle—partial acceptance—as a way of kind of accepting it without really accepting it. So, thanks, Huw, for your comments on that. We also need to be careful that we don't compromise the committee's independence. Whilst it's good to liaise with the Government, to work with the Government, we also want to make sure that we are scrutinising and not—
It's perfectly in line with protecting our independence to point out to them that they're not doing what they said they were going to do.
Can I just, on that sense of independence, perhaps just comment on that last paragraph, where Shan refers to,
'the practice of the Wales Audit Office who consult us on their proposed recommendations'.
In fact, we carry out a clearance on the report. The recommendations are mine, but, for courtesy, we let the Welsh Government see those before the publication of the report. So, it's not consulting in the sense that I can then say, 'Oh dear, I will immediately amend.' It is a question of just making sure that there are no surprises.
Okay. The Welsh Government and the chair of Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board have responded to our letters following consideration of the auditor general's public interest report on 25 September. The health board are making good progress with their action plan and have agreed to send a further update on the plan in the spring of 2018. Are we happy with that approach and to receive that in the spring and take it from there?
Yes, although I would say that, having read the detailed reply, my anxiety remains that they are responding to this through multiple processes but not confronting the fact that this was a failure of leadership at the senior level, and I don't see many processes for confronting that fact.
I think it is clear that the implications and lessons from this particular audit report have been considered fairly widely within the NHS, so to that extent I think that they've responded effectively. I think there will always be a tension in terms of what local health boards want and what the Welsh Government, in a sense from the centre as the chief executive of the NHS, is happy with.
I'd personally say that the response of the board is a reasonable one, and certainly it's an area that I'll be looking at when I do the audit of their accounts next year.
With regard to their clear ability to be able to appoint over and above—I don't want to open the issue up itself—the approved pay scales, they still have that facility, is that right?
Sorry, I missed that.
So, if you've got your pay scale in terms of senior executive posts, you're saying that they can still appoint over that pay scale. They've still got a mechanism to do that.
There is a mechanism to do it. They have to seek the assent of the Welsh Government for it.
Okay. And, finally, from this section of the committee, Natural Resources Wales have written with an update on the progress made in addressing recommendations of the committee following our report earlier in the year, and NRW's audit and risk assurance are overseeing the progress against their action plan. I suggest we note the letter and receive a further update again in the spring next year.
You may want to include this, because I'm sure that, as you know, you do call in bodies to look at their accounts when they're presented. I think, given the issues that arose with NRW a year back, it might be useful if you included them in the list of bodies to be examined next year.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42.
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42.
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Okay. Back on track, and I propose we move into private session, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42. Any objections? No. Good.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:16.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:16.