Supporting People Programme provides important services but needs to improve

31 Aug 2017 - 12:02am

While there has been a significant Welsh Government investment in the Programme, some concerns about its design and delivery remain

The Welsh Government invested £124.5 million in its Supporting People Programme (the Programme) in 2016-17, to support vulnerable people in a wide variety of circumstances to live as independently as possible. Despite some improvements, action taken to address longstanding concerns with its design and delivery has not always been effective, progress has been slow in key areas and there are inconsistencies in the Programme’s management at a local and regional level. This is according to a report published today by the Auditor General for Wales.

The Programme provides grant funding to local authorities to deliver directly, or through third-party providers, housing-related support services to a range of people; from those with learning or physical disabilities and development disorders to victims of domestic abuse, people with chronic illnesses, mental health or substance misuse issues, criminal offending histories and people with refugee status.

However, the report found that current objectives do not recognise explicitly the Programme’s role in preventing homelessness and tackling poverty. The report also reflects concerns about the way the Welsh Government has communicated the implications of changing policy on the Programme, including legislation on social services, future generations and housing, and UK Government policy on welfare reform. The Welsh Government has consulted recently on revised objectives as part of wider changes to Programme guidance, but developing these new arrangements has taken longer than expected due in part to resourcing constraints.

There remain concerns about the effectiveness and impact of the Regional Collaborative Committees, with mixed progress in developing regional projects and services. The Welsh Government does not yet have a good enough understanding of the Programme’s impact and is now planning to revise the current approach to evaluation. However, there is some emerging, but as yet still limited evidence that the Programme reduces use of health services.

Funding for the Programme has continued to be ring fenced, in contrast to the situation in England and Scotland. But there are some concerns about the impact of budget reductions on the quality and sustainability of services, and the redistribution of funds towards geographical areas of greatest need has not progressed as rapidly as anticipated. This has meant that some local authorities have received significantly more funding in 2016-17, and others significantly less, than if the Welsh Government had continued to apply the funding formula it introduced for 2012-13 and 2013-14.

The report highlights that, at a local and regional level, more needs to be done to ensure that service planning builds on good quality information about peoples’ needs. But it also notes that local planning has been hampered by short-term funding horizons with the Welsh Government confirming only annual funding allocations in recent years. Welsh Government guidance on procuring Programme services is potentially misleading, and there is some variable procurement practice across Wales. The report has also highlighted the variable quality of programme management by local authorities and issues with the eligibility of some support for people with learning disabilities and differences in the level of support provided.

Today’s report makes eight recommendations to the Welsh Government on issues including:

  • the implications of wider policy reforms for the Programme;
  • the funding formula and the funding and planning horizon for the Programme; and
  • clarifying its guidance on the procurement of Supporting People services.

Auditor General, Huw Vaughan Thomas said today:

“The Supporting People Programme provides important support to those who need it most. However, the Welsh Government, working with its partners, needs to do more to demonstrate the overall impact and value for money of the Programme and to ensure that it is being delivered consistently in line with its expectations.

“There are important lessons to learn from the way the Programme has developed, given the increased emphasis that the Welsh Government is placing on regional working in local government and the ways of working envisaged by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.”