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Commissioners must be creative in face of budget cuts

After what seems like an eternity talking about potential cuts in local authority budgets, they are now with us – and are as bad as predicted.

Around the country, local authorities are publishing their budgets for 2010/11 and they do not make for happy reading. From what I have seen, no local authorities are increasing their budgets, and many have announced multi-million pound cuts.

Some local authorities are making cuts to adult social care services as a result. Councillors are keen to point out that frontline services will not be affected, saying they will mostly be made in back-office functions or through efficiency savings – conveniently opaque terms that do not reveal exactly where cuts will be made or to whom.

What this does do is make the job of the commissioner of adult social care services more important than ever; it is they who will decide which services are cut and which are bought.

Getting more from less is a difficult trick to pull off successfully, but they need to rise to the challenge. Fortunately, personalisation gives them the opportunity to do it.

With personalisation’s focus on the individual, it gives commissioners more flexibility to work with independent providers and the third sector to provide a range of services tailored to the local community, rather than the local community having to fit into the services commissioned.

This can mean that the services commissioned offer better value for money because they are the ones that people want – not what the local authority think they need. Also, services that do not provide value for money can be safely axed.

Personal budgets also give service users more choice and control. While it can be argued that they don’t get either if the budget isn’t enough to cover their needs, they often, anecdotally, get services in more cheaply than the local authority had done.

Budget cuts should focus the minds of commissioners and those that do innovate – and work fully with providers, the third sector and service users – should help their service users to achieve better outcomes.

Their role should be about shaping the market and enabling it to develop, rather than dictating it.

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Filed under adult social care, Social care funding