HL Deb 20 February 2003 vol 644 cc191-3WA
Baroness Goudie

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have regarding funding for the Supporting People programme. [HL1798]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)

The Supporting People programme aims to improve the quality of life of vulnerable people by supporting them to live independently in the community. It begins on 1 April. I am pleased to tell the House today that total provisional annual amounts of supporting people grant for England, based on estimates submitted by authorities in December and other relevant information, for 2003–04, is £1.4 billion. I shall be writing further to local authorities to set out in detail their individual grant amounts and the grant conditions, directions and guidance.

The programme is now providing supported housing in the form of at least 530,000 household units for older people, mainly in sheltered services; 45,000 household units for people with learning difficulties, or mental health problems; 4,000 household units to support the rehabilitation of ex-offenders; 3,000 household units for women fleeing domestic violence; and 75,000 household units for people who were homeless or from other vulnerable client groups. It is also providing a considerable and growing amount of non-accommodation based "floating" support (including community alarms and Home Improvement Agency services)—around 410,000 households in all. This is a major investment in some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society, with the clear objective of helping them to become, or remain, full participants in their local communities. The programme's aim is to prevent crises, such as hospitalisation, institutional care or homelessness, by providing early support when it is most effective.

For the past three years the Government have been working with local authorities. providers, and other partners to prepare for this programme. Our overriding priority has been to make sure that people receiving services see no interruption to their services on 1 April. Equally, those people receiving transitional housing benefit at the point of transfer must see their services continued during the transitional period on the same basis and cost to themselves as before. A great deal of work has been done both by local authorities and service providers to capture accurately the current cost and nature of services in order to reflect these in new interim contracts on 1 April.

Initial grant allocations are for six months, since there remains work to be done to ensure that the estimates provided in December are accurate and fully evidenced. Final, fully verified, figures as at 31 March are required from local authorities by 30 September to confirm grant amounts. At that point, any over- or underestimates will be adjusted for.

The new Supporting People programme will be delivered under the Local Government Act 2000 Section 93. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will therefore administer the programme under the normal arrangement of a cash-limited budget using,in the future, an allocation formula on which there has been recent consultation.

We are also conscious that there are services in the pipeline, which are currently incurring capital spend, and which will require revenue funding once the buildings are completed. We have therefore made a provisional allocation for some of these, subject to confirmation of progress. We have also made an allowance for expected savings due to declining obligations in respect of transitionally protected clients and the impact of early reviews.

We are aware that authorities are entering into interim contracts in order to manage the process of transition, and that they will soon be conducting reviews with a view to establishing longer-term contracts. We will ensure that the allocations for years two and three meet the validated contractual commitments that authorities are obliged to put in place in order to meet their legal requirements and to manage the Supporting People programme on a stable basis until the next spending review in 2004 (which will cover years 2005–06 onwards). We intend to publish further guidance on this by 1 April at the latest. By that date we also intend to have set out ground rules on how Authorities can enter into longer term contracts and advice about how these will fit with the timetable of spending reviews at a national level.

At this point, however, it is not possible to set out definitive amounts for years two and three. Initial grant conditions have been set for six months, which will allow us to monitor progress, including the beginning of a rigorous service review programme. This may result in small adjustments in-year if they prove necessary for the proper management of the programme.

It is now time for local authorities, providers, and their partners in health and probation to take ownership of this programme. Every service must undergo a review during the first three years of the programme. This review is aimed at improving the quality of service, assessing its strategic relevance, and challenging its value for money.

The review process at the local level must be rigorous and disciplined to ensure that the services purchased through Supporting People are necessary, give good value for money, and are on a stable and appropriate contractual basis. Local authorities which do not carry out proper reviews or which provide insubstantial evidence of the benefits and strategic relevance of services cannot expect to receive continued levels of funding in future. We will also be looking carefully at the impact of the draft allocations formula, about which we are consulting at present.

This programme offers an exciting new opportunity to local authorities and their partners to develop local partnerships to meet effectively the needs of their local people, using innovative new models of preventative services. We look forward to the development and sharing of positive practice in achieving the targets of social inclusion of vulnerable groups in their local communities.