The last part of December was frantic as some of the implications of localism began to become clear. The Localism Bill, was finally presented to the House and then the local government settlement figures were released. The headlines were then, and have continued to be dominated by the range of cuts, and the immediate responses of some authorities to implement reductions in spending.
The Spending Review clarified the shift of Supporting People funding from Area Based Grant (ABG) to Formula Grant, although at that stage there was no clarity about how or if it would be possible to track the allocation of Supporting People into Formula Grant. However, the Local Government Finance department within the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have revealed the full amount that each authority has had inserted into formula grant.
At first glance these figures are a significant shock. Those of us trying to make some early comparison were looking at the figures for 2011/12 compared to the figure included in the ABG allocation of 2010/11. The seismic shifts for some authorities appeared unbelievable, so we have worked on trying to understand the story beneath the figures.
On further examination a number of things became obvious. Firstly, that any direct comparison falls foul of looking at damped figures (ie the 2010/11 allocation to ABG, which had been damped by the Supporting People Distribution Formula) with the undamped figure of 2011/12. The second was that the 2011/12 figure had eliminated the phasing element that had been established with the introduction of the distribution formula in 2008.
Therefore the impact of this change appeared to move authorities immediately to a destination point – which under the previous formula, many of them would never have reached. In addition to this, it appears that the Distribution Formula itself has changed. Therefore in order to make some meaningful comparison the 2011/12 allocation would then have to be damped by the formula grant system leaving the actual understanding of the level of formula grant to be almost impenetrable. DCLG have responded to concerns raised about the interpretation of these figures by issuing the following letter.
The story does not end there however, as the conclusion that we had come to will surely have reverberations around the country, and as we were reviewing figures we were already being contacted by members in Nottingham. The city council there have utilised the figures to create a direct comparison between the two years and had identified what they believed to be a 45% cut, immediately contacting providers to suggest that instant action would need to be taken to reduce spending. A meeting focusing on the implementation of these proposed cuts is planned for early January. Information in from other members shows that they are not alone in this approach.
Those who have looked at trying to compare the damped figures, by disaggregating the Supporting People from the final allocation may also cause more confusion. Other authorities where the undamped figure shows a significant positive swing will be seeking to target established spending plan cuts to show that potential previous allocations were below identified need, and that instead of reduction in services, they should be seeking to increase spend on these vital preventative services. The potential interpretation of these figures runs a real risk of fuelling inappropriate unplanned, and unnecessary decommissioning or commissioning plans.
One conclusion could be that the publishing of these figures by Local Government Finance was less than helpful – and certainly as they stand they have the potential to cause significant damage. However, we have been arguing for transparency, and indeed have been urged to hold local authorities to account over their decisions around spending. How can this possibly be achieved if there is no way of knowing how the national Supporting People pot is being distributed? I would urge central government to find some meaningful way of enabling or requiring authorities to declare the amount that they receive for Supporting People out of their damped formula grant allocation and enabling the local community – in its broadest sense – to hold them to account.
As ADASS officials declare that 82% of authorities are already considering taking money from housing related services – unless we can quickly define what is actually there in the first place – the money will disappear without recourse and the Government commitment to protect the most vulnerable through the ‘relative protection’ of the Supporting People programme will feel like a redundant bolt across the door long after the proverbial steed has gone.