HL Deb 02 November 1993 vol 549 cc997-9

3 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they spend money on residential care and training for children in need instead of co-operating with the voluntary sector.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, local authorities are in general responsible for the care of children in need and for training the great majority of staff employed to care for children. Bearing that in mind, the Secretary of State has recently established a children's residential care support force under the chairmanship of Ms. Adrianne Jones. The support force will address the issue of the supply of residential care, including the contribution which the voluntary sector can make.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she aware that the Question applies not only to the Department of Health but also to the Department for Education and the Home Office? Is she further aware that the voluntary sector is deeply grateful to the Department of Health and to the Minister and her civil servants for the co-operation which they show? Sadly, is she also aware that it is felt in the voluntary sector that the Department for Education is not aware of the needs of children in residential care and that, furthermore, the Home Office is planning to spend the most enormous amount of money on the care, training and education of delinquent children when there are vacancies and facilities in the voluntary sector which could be used to great purpose?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that children's services cover several departments. I am sure she will be relieved to know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has met my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education to discuss juvenile offenders and other children's issues.

Lord Carter

My Lords, when the Government responded to the Utting Report on residential care services for children mention was made of making the best use of available resources. Does that mean that the Government intend to put no additional resources into implementing the Utting Report and various previous reports on the subject?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, clearly the Government would want to make the best use of all available resources. However, as my noble friend said, there is room for new developments, particularly secure accommodation which in the past the voluntary sector has not been keen to supply.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is a saving to the public purse to have children in residential care within the voluntary sector, with some financial help from local authorities, than if they had to be maintained entirely in public places?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the Government would wish to make use of all the resources that are available, both voluntary and in the public sector. But the voluntary sector has to recognise that some of its services are very costly and that it has to ensure it gives value for money if local authorities are to use its accommodation.

Baroness David

My Lords, will the Government give support to residential schools for children with educational and behavioural difficulties, run by both local authorities and voluntary bodies, which may, it seems, have to close because local authorities do not have the necessary resources to pay for the pupils? Surely, it is much better to use the facilities one has rather than to spend vast sums of money, as we are led to believe will happen, on secure units which may be miles from the children's homes and which have proved extremely unsuccessful in the past?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, a problem at the moment is the under-occupancy of children's homes. As I said, there is also the problem that the voluntary sector is not very keen to supply secure accommodation.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, why has the amount of secure accommodation in children's homes been reduced in the past 10 years, given the concern expressed by Ministers about the level of juvenile crime? Why have the Government allowed that to happen while at the same time announcing that they will move towards Mark 2 borstals which we know perfectly well will be as great a failure on this occasion as they have been in the past?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, clearly, the accommodation has to be used if it is to be effective. In the past local authorities have chosen not to send children to some homes. As I said, the under-occupancy is still there. I understand that the Utting Report showed that there was a 25 per cent. vacancy rate in some homes within the voluntary sector.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is because local authorities do not have the cash from the Government to pay for the places that there are these spare places?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the budget for local authorities has increased year on year. It is up to them to make their own decisions, set their own priorities and use their money more effectively.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that work done in the voluntary sector is much more cost effective than that done by government departments and local authorities due to the voluntary sector's greater flexibility and lack of bureaucracy?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, it depends. Some of the places run by voluntary organisations are very expensive. If I may reiterate the point about local authority expenditure, it increased by 23 per cent. in real terms between 1979 and 1993.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, am I right in thinking that the Secretary of State for Health has announced her own plans for setting up secure units? How is that to be reconciled with the plans of the Home Secretary?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there is a great deal of negotiation, co-operation and discussion between the two departments. Clearly we would want to do what is most effective for children in need.