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Young People

Hertfordshire County Council's 'Supporting Program' receives a no star rating from the Audit Commission

The Supporting People program is a local government project, which began in the UK in 2003.  It is an ambitious scheme, aiming to provide adequate housing support for the most vulnerable people in the UK. It planned to empower people to live independently and to prevent problems such as homelessness. It was created to assist a wide range of people, such as elderly and disabled members of the community.[1]

This policy intended to directly improve lives. But Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) is failing to provide a sufficient service. The Audit Commission (ACC) has recently produced two damaging reports on Hertfordshire County Council's Supporting People Program. They criticised the program's administration, financial budgeting, conduct of our councillors and democracy.

Previously in May 2006, the Audit Commission assessed the Supporting People program at HCC. Out of a possible 3 stars, it received a no star rating.[2] In November 2008 the Audit Commission re-inspected the Supporting People Program. They found little improvement and again awarded the program no star.[3] What could have gone so terribly wrong?

Grant allocation and Value for Money

After reading the recent November 2008 report, there are evidently many problems with the running of the program, but there were several very disconcerting criticisms. Firstly, there were problems with the allocation of grants within the project. The program was funding projects that were not eligible for financial support. It took HCC five years to review methods of grant administration and discover that it could relocate £2.2million for eligible services.[4]

The report also criticised HCC for not researching effective methods of cutting costs. HCC were not 'benchmarking' themselves against other local authorities; they were not exploring cost cutting methods used by other Councils. Even though HCC are currently trying to cut administration costs by implementing a new IT system, the ACC found that HCC were unsure how much money this would actually save and to implement this project would of course cost money.[5]

Councillors

The report viewed that some local councillors, especially district councillors, were attending meetings of the Commissioning Body sporadically and some did not attend in a whole year. As a result of this, the ACC believed this significantly slowed down the decision making progress and was detrimental to the project. The ACC was also concerned that no-one enquired why Councillors were missing so many meetings.[6]

The report notes that Councillors did have a good knowledge of the program, but were not aware of the high standards that were required. As a result of Councillors not benchmarking performance against other Councils, they did not realise how far the Supporting People program was falling behind.[7]

The report also showed that the Councillors were focussing of bureaucratic procedures and policies, instead of reviewing and assessing the program.[8]

Democracy

At East Herts People we advocate a transparent political system, which enables local people to directly influence local government. The ACC report shows that it is extremely difficult for local people to be actively involved with decisions and provide feedback in the Supporting People Program. There are currently no service users' representatives on the Commissioning Body and no procedures to include views and comments at Commissioning Body meetings.[9]

The report also highlighted that it was difficult for service users to complain and raise issues with the Council. There is a complaints procedure, but it is complicated and difficult to use. Complaints are also poorly administrated by HCC[10]

This is sadly a perfect example of members of the public not being able to have a say in local government. The spirit of the Supporting People Program is to empower local people and HCC should be endeavouring to involve them as much as possible.

These are just a few points raised by the ACC in their November 2008 report. From reading the report, it is clear that the current system needs to be greatly changed and improved. At East Herts People we can provide support for Independent Councillors, who will be able to make the radical changes and provide the efficient and excellent services that the most vulnerable in Hertfordshire deserve.

You can read the full report from last year here

Join the debate!

We would really appreciate your views on the Supporting People Program in Hertfordshire. Please send us your feedback to .........

We will be displaying a selection of your comments on the website later in the month.


[1] What is supporting people?

[2] Supporting People

[3] Supporting People

[4] Point 56 of the November 2008 main report

[5] Point 126 of the November 2008 main report

[6] Point 40 of the November 2008 report

[7] Point 36 of the November 2008 report

[8] Ibid

[9] Point 42 of the November 2008 report

[10] Point 101-103 of the November 2008 report

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