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Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill: Approach to Implementation

Gwenda Thomas Deputy Minister for Social Services

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill creates a new legal system for social services. As I said in my written statement to the Assembly on 31 October 2013, the Bill creates a framework that will enable us to deal with the challenges, economic and demographic, that we face now. I will set out in this Statement today my approach to implementation of the changes enabled by the Bill.  In summary, I will:

  • continue to fully involve citizens to co-produce reforms and take these forward through our broad-based, cross-party, cross-sector leadership Partnership Forum;
  • publish a detailed timetable for subordinate legislation once the Bill receives Royal Assent;
  • develop a programme of training for the social care, health and third sector workforces to prepare for changes to practise;
  • develop a communication package which will provide clear and concise messages to communicate the Bill’s changes to the wider public;
  • reprioritise the Welsh Government’s programmes for social services to align resources towards implementing sustainable social services, and
  • coordinate this activity in a comprehensive three-year implementation plan covering the broad areas of legislation, training, communications and finance.

The current model of social care provision in Wales is no longer sustainable, and services will come under increasing pressure through increasing demand and reduced budgets. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15 the Assembly revenue budget has been cut in real terms by £1 billion.  Protecting budgets for current delivery models for social services is not viable in the long term. Sustainable Social Services: a Framework for Action set out the Welsh Government’s plan for delivering a transformational change in social services – the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill is one part of achieving that vision, the legislative underpinning for a vision that can only be achieved in partnership between national and local government, the NHS and independent providers. The Welsh Government is committed to fully implementing the changes set out in the Bill by the end of this Assembly term.

The Bill brings together and modernises the law for social services in Wales, increasing the emphasis on preventative action and bringing people closer to decisions about the services that affect them.  Such a major piece of law will inevitably lead to a reframing of the regulations and codes of practice that underpin the primary legislation – this is a programme of change in its own right.  Work is already well underway in finalising statements of policy intent which are shortly to be published and will then be developed into technical policy instructions to shape the draft regulations. I have made a series of statements setting out my policy for the major sections of the Bill and the process of developing, testing and communicating the fine detail has begun, with major steps forward being taken in the areas of safeguarding, direct payments and the national model for well-being, in particular.

Next steps in implementation will build on the ongoing work in developing the new model for care and well-being, including arrangements for assessment and eligibility; a work of co-production which has already resulted in an amendment to the Bill to improve its provisions. Other ongoing engagement will also continue and develop; I am thinking particularly of stakeholder-facing work such as that of the Direct Payment Overview Group, which has produced the principles which will guide our regulations and Code of Practice on this key issue; and the detailed stakeholder engagement on the practical operation of the safeguarding provisions in the Bill which is being led by the Safeguarding Advisory Panel.

As this work demonstrates, I am fully committed to building and supporting a national consensus for sustainable social services wherever possible. All the key aspects of taking Sustainable Social Services forward have been undertaken with the close involvement of citizens and strong joint leadership from local government, the NHS and independent providers. This broad-based approach to engagement will continue through the next phase of development for sustainable social services – I will look to the Citizen Panel and the cross-party, cross-sector Partnership Forum that I chair to help shape the implementation of the Bill.

The Bill’s subordinate legislation will be taken forward as a coordinated delivery programme of work. From January onwards, my officials will accelerate the work with stakeholders they are already undertaking to develop and refine the details of our policy intent for regulations. Drafting of the subordinate legislation will then commence, subject to the Assembly passing the Bill at Stage 4. This will include the development of a full regulatory impact assessment and explanatory memoranda for the regulations in their own right. This work will lead to a formal consultation on principal pieces of subordinate legislation this autumn, with the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny by the Assembly’s committees. Following this, revisions will be prepared and laid for Assembly scrutiny during 2015. The Codes of Practice that will complete Wales’s social services legal framework will be developed alongside their related regulations. Sufficient time will then be allowed during 2015 for training to take place ahead of the implementation of the majority of statutory instruments by 1 April 2016.

Clearly, this new legal structure for social services will require changes to the way frontline services are delivered and managed. The Welsh Government, through its £8.2m Social Care Workforce Development Programme (supplemented by local partners’ investment) will develop a programme of training to support implementation. This National Training Programme will be developed with input from key stakeholders and will go further than just social services, encompassing health, third sector and other workforces, where relevant, also. The steering group which oversees workforce issues as part of the Sustainable Social Services programme is tasked with commissioning work in this area and the resultant training programme will be in place before commencement of the core provisions.

There will also be a strand in the implementation plan for communications, recognising the need for careful and clear public communications on Bill implementation. This will set out the implications for the public, their role in co-production, and what they can expect from the refreshed social care framework.

The WLGA and NHS Confederation commissioned a report from the Institute of Public Care on Transitional and longer-term implications of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill. I welcome this report: it is a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the changes required to meet the aims set out in Sustainable Social Services.  Implementation of the service transformation that we collectively agree upon can only be delivered in partnership, working throughout the health and social care system.  In order to realise the full potential of the Bill, reform is needed at local, regional and national levels working across sectors.  In particular, I agree with the report’s findings that local authorities will need to develop local implementation plans, based on a rigorous self-assessment and developed together with local area partners, and work with citizens to create a culture of engagement and greater co-production of services. I also agree with the report’s finding that Local Health Boards will need to work closely with local authorities in undertaking a rigorous local self-assessment and agreeing a plan for service development.

The Institute for Public Care also suggested actions for the Welsh Government and national agencies in implementing the Bill. In addition to developing and delivering the Bill’s subordinate legislation, the Welsh Government is taking forward work to support local authorities, the third sector and the NHS to develop a coherent model of early intervention and prevention services, including evidence of best practice and practical support and ideas for implementation. The Welsh Government and the Partnership Forum has an ongoing role to ensure that good practice is shared across Wales through a common approach to analysing progress against the Bill, through sharing approaches that work and supporting evaluations where these would be relevant across the country, and through coordinating local and regional implementation.

This is a national single programme of change across all key local government, NHS and voluntary sector bodies in Wales to ensure a consistent set of messages and common discourse that will be taken forward under the collective leadership of the National Social Services Partnership Forum.  To successfully meet the shared challenges we face in social services, there must be bravery, innovation and shared ownership of the changes from the frontline through to local authorities, local health boards and national private and third sector organisations.

The purpose of the Bill is to create the legal framework that will enable social services to be more sustainable. However the transformational changes we require are significant, and we recognise that our reforms require transitional support.

The vast majority of funding for social services comes from local government, but the Welsh Government’s Budget includes programme resources to promote the implementation of sustainable social services across the whole system: for example, investing in the development and roll-out of preventative programmes such as the Integrated Family Support Services that will be fully in place across Wales this year; supporting joined up information systems across local authority and NHS boundaries; funding for third sector programmes; the Care Council for Wales’s social work bursaries and our investment in developing the social care workforce; and the work of the Older People’s Commissioner. I am committed to supporting Local Authorities and their partners in implementing the Bill and have, as promised, made available £1.5 million in 2013-14 and a further £1.5 million in 2014-15 to assist in the transitional costs to deliver the changes required by the Bill. The Welsh Government is also investing significantly in health and social care integration through the £50 million Intermediate Care Fund, and a large proportion of the Regional Collaboration Fund.

My remit across all of these programmes is to ensure that all of this investment supports the whole system’s implementation of sustainable social services.