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Westminster Eye: An insight into the week of politics 21-25 May

Steve_Smith_Public_Affairs_Manager_EnglandIn the House of Lords during Oral Questions the Earl of Clancarty asked the Government whether they would reconsider their decision to cap income tax reliefs on charitable donations to the arts, universities and other areas. A reply is expected on 14 June.

Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd announced a raft of measures designed to encourage more people to volunteer and to make it easier for people to run charities. The steps taken to make it easier for people to volunteer include:

  • a "Volunteer Code of Good Practice" stating that volunteering is not a generally risky activity and setting out simple guidelines that will reduce any risk there might be;
  • guidance from the Association of British Insurers on 'How to run an event' giving volunteers advice on how to arrange appropriate insurance;
  • ABI's "Volunteer Driving - The Motor Insurance Commitment" which has encouraged insurers not to charge additional premiums for volunteer drivers. 66 insurance companies have already signed up, covering over 90% of all drivers. WRVS has over 10,000 volunteer drivers alone; and
  • new legislation the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will radically improve the "portability" of CRB certificates so that people can volunteer using the same certificate as they do for employment. This change will lead to a big reduction in the need for repeat checks on the same individual reducing the time and costs incurred.

Monday 21 May

Nick Smith MP received a reply from Paul Burstow MP relating to his question on what systems are in place to minimise the impact of provider failure on users of care and nursing homes. He also asked who is responsible for oversight of the financial viability of private companies that provide care and nursing home services. Paul Burstow said that the responsibility for providing or arranging residential care rests with local authorities, which have specific duties of care to their populations under the National Assistance Act 1948 and the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990.

He added that the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 gives local authorities the powers to provide or arrange care services for anyone in urgent need. Were a care home to fail, no resident-whether publicly or self-funded-would be left homeless or without care. As commissioners and providers of care services, local authorities have a responsibility to manage the care sector in their areas in order to ensure there is a suitable range of provision available to meet local need.

He reminded Mr Smith that social care is a devolved matter; different oversight and regulatory mechanisms are in place across the United Kingdom. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has responsibility for the regulation of adult social care in England. As such, it contributes to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of people who use social care services. All providers of regulated activities in England must be registered with the CQC and meet the registration requirements, which are set out in regulations made under the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

He concluded that the regulations included a requirement to take all reasonable steps to carry on the regulated activity in such a manner as to ensure the financial viability of the carrying on of that activity. This requirement does not apply to local authorities or NHS bodies. The CQC can take enforcement action, including cancellation of registration, if the registration requirements are not met. In October 2011, the Department published a discussion paper, "Oversight of the Social Care Market", which outlined the issues facing the social care market and possible options for strengthening oversight of the largest and most complex providers. The Government had considered the responses to the consultation paper and intend to address the issue of market oversight in the forthcoming White Paper on Care and Support.

Hazel Blears MP received a reply from the Minister to her question on what assessment had been made of the effect of not increasing the means test capital limit for residential care on (a) businesses, (b) charities and (c) voluntary bodies in the sector. She had also asked what savings have accrued from maintaining the means test capital limit for residential care at the same level since 2010. Paul Burstow said that the Department had not made an assessment of the effect of not increasing the means test capital limit for residential care on businesses, charities and voluntary bodies in the sector. The decision in the spending review 2010 not to increase capital limits was taken in order to help local authorities, at a time of financial stringency, to maintain the level of services they provide. The spending review 2010 covers Government spending up to April 2015. However, the capital limits were being kept under review in order to monitor the impact of them.

Helen Goodman MP quizzed the Cabinet office seeking information on the estimate that had been made of the change in income of the voluntary and charitable sector in each region of (a) decisions in Budget 2012 and (b) spending cuts in (i) 2010, (ii) 2011 and (iii) 2012. A reply is expected after recess.

Tuesday 22 May

Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk MP urged volunteers from all over the country to speak out against uncaring officialdom - but also to give credit where credit is due if someone has been really helpful. The Government is urging anyone involved in volunteering - from a jumble sale, to organising a Jubilee party, to a three-peaks challenge - can feed in their experiences, good and bad, of dealing with local authorities and other regulators as part of the Focus on Enforcement campaign.

"Volunteers are the unsung heroes of communities in this country. But dealing with the way rules are enforced can sometimes be more of a problem than the red tape itself - no one volunteers to be a bureaucrat. So, whether it's an inspection by someone who won't listen or having to fill in the same form twice - we want to hear about it. I urge you to go to the Focus on Enforcement website and let us know your views so that we can take action. We know there are good regulators out there, so we also want you to tell us on the website about the heroes - people who give really good guidance and help your event to happen well and safely."

Mark Prisk MP
Caroline Nokes MP had asked Health Ministers who will (a) fund and (b) have responsibility for commissioning (i) local and (ii) national enhanced services following the implementation of NHS reforms. Simon Burns MP replied saying that the NHS Commissioning Board will be responsible for funding and commissioning all future primary medical services, including any nationally specified enhanced services under the general practitioner contract arrangements.

He added that the Government also proposes to transfer the funding attached to current local enhanced services to clinical commissioning groups. Clinical commissioning groups will be able to use their commissioning budgets to fund commissioning of community-based services, for which the provider might be a general practice where the service is outside the scope of the general practitioner contract and where the award of such contracts have been undertaken in line with safeguards to protect against any potential conflicts of interests.

Meanwhile in the House of Lords Baroness Finlay of Llandaff tabled an Oral Questions to ask the Government how they plan to implement the recommendations in the report Delivering Dignity A reply in expected on 18 June.

Lord Patel of Bradford had asked the Government whether clinical commissioning groups will be subject to specific duties under the Equality Act 2010. Earl Howe in replying confirmed that Clinical commissioning groups, as public sector organisations, will be subject to the specific duties of the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010.

Baroness Greengross has asked the Government what assessment they have made of spending on adult social care services by local authorities in the last year. A reply is due on 7 June.

Wednesday 23 May

Simon Burns MP replied to MP David Evennett’s question over how many people over the age of 60 received a free eye test. The published table showed the number of NHS sight tests for persons aged 60 and over in England in 1999/2000 was 3.3m and had risen to 5.3m in 2010/11.

Dr Phillip Lee asked what steps the Government is taking to reduce the administrative burdens of volunteering. An answer is due on11 June.

Thursday 24 May

The Prime Minister as part of Dementia Awareness Week, called on up to 30,000 National Citizen Service young volunteers to help people with dementia by giving their time in care homes around the UK. The scheme forms part of a national challenge aimed at raising awareness and understanding of dementia, improving the lives and experiences of people living with dementia and helping make communities more inclusive.

Anne McIntosh MP asked what representations the Government had received on delivering health and social care in the community. Mark Spencer MP asked what steps the Government was taking to reduce the administrative and regulatory burdens that affect the number of people who volunteer. Both questions are due for answer during Oral questions on 13th June.

Jim Cunningham MP received an answer from Health Ministers about the assessment their Department had made of the effect of changes to local government budgets on the cost of placing each patient into care provided by an independent care provider. Paul Burstow responded by saying that the commissioning of adult social care services is devolved to local authorities, and it is for each local authority to negotiate and agree the fees paid to individual providers, reflecting local circumstances. In setting these fee levels, local authorities should have due regard to the actual costs of providing care. He added that the Department does not set or recommend rates at which local authorities contract with providers of care, and has therefore made no assessment of the cost of placing individual care users with independent providers.

In the most recent spending review, the Government had recognised the pressures on the adult social care system within a challenging settlement for local government, and took the decision to prioritise adult social care by allocating an additional £7.2 billion to the system over the four years to 2014-15 to support local authorities in delivering social care. When combined with a rigorous local authority focus on efficiency, this additional £7.2 billion means that there is funding available to protect people's access to care and deliver new approaches to improve quality and outcomes.

Chris Skidmore MP asked the Secretary of State for Health how many patients received treatment from the NHS for dementia in each year since 1997. Paul Burstow responded saying that data on out-patient activity for dementia are not routinely collected. However, in September 2011, the NHS Information Centre published the results of an audit of memory services for dementia which showed that 951 people per primary care trust on average accessed memory services in 2010-11, compared to 605 in 2008-09. In-patient admissions for dementia were 29,925 in 1997/98 but had fallen to 17,275 in 2010/11.

Jon Trickett MP asked the Cabinet Office what guidance had been issued to local authorities on how to support voluntary and charitable organisations applying for local authority funding. An answer is due on 11 June.

A number of debates were announced as part of upcoming business and these will be covered in future blogs.

In the Commons on 11 June Ben Bradshaw MP will lead an Adjournment debate on Dementia services in the South West.

Also on 11 June in the Lords Baroness Wheeler will ask the Government what is the timetable for the draft bill to modernise adult care and support in England announced in the Queen’s Speech and to what extent the proposals in the bill follow the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission.

On 21 June Baroness Scott of Needham Market will move that the House takes note of the role of the voluntary sector and social enterprise.

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