The English Patient. How Supporting People went wrong Part 1

Patient words

I spoke at a Cymorth Cymru event in Cardiff recently about Bromford’s moves to embrace a more strengths based relationship with our customers.
A little research into the state of Supporting People in Wales (where it still seems to be valued for its contribution to the whole prevention agenda) made me reflect on the whole sorry saga of SP in England.

When Supporting People came on the scene it was like the arrival of a WW1 Army Recruitment charabanc in a small town. Barefooted children ran alongside brightly painted orange and purple ODPM wagons and grabbed at SP 1s and 2s thrown to the crowds as bunting fluttered and brass bands played. Posters appeared on every lamp post announcing the big day on March 31st 2003. Everyone was excited.

The launch of Supporting People was a big thing.

Briefing sessions were held up and down the land and it was standing room only as providers gazed at PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide telling them about the latest ‘cut’ deadline; caught a glimpse of the new forms they were to complete; and anxiously scribbled down notes about the QAF, Accreditation, quarterly reviews, the Core Commissioning Group, et al.

If you had experience working in supported housing then the sexy jobs were now in one of the SP Teams springing up in Town Halls up and down the land.

£1.8 billion of funding.

Wow. This was serious stuff. A whole new centrally controlled programme that would turn a rag bag of providers into a Sector – with raised standards, consistency and professionalism. As Tony McNulty said when addressing Parliament in February 2003:

This programme offers an exciting new opportunity to local authorities and their partners to develop local partnerships to meet effectively the needs of their local people, using innovative new models of preventive services. We look forward to the development and sharing of positive practice in achieving the targets of social inclusion of vulnerable groups in their local communities.

What a different picture now.

All the razzmatazz and optimism of the ODPM’s programme launch has slowly unravelled and is now coming to an ignominious end. Local authority after local authority is winding up the last few remaining housing related support services in their area….not at big, brash, public meetings but by sending grubby little letters to providers telling them their services are no longer required….like so many ‘we regret to inform you’ telegrams.

If I had one message for providers and commissioners in Wales it was not to make the same mistakes we’ve made in England:

1. Don’t get hooked on SP funding…it is just that…a funding source and not why your organisation exists;

2. Don’t let yourself become a commodity…keep innovating…trying new things…being disruptive to the dead hand of corporate procurement;

3. Do keep asking ‘Why?’ Why does your organisation exist? Why do you do what you do? Why do you come in on a Monday morning? And I bet it’s not just to do what it says on page 63 of a Supporting People contract.

Part Two of How Supporting People went wrong will look more closely at these mistakes and how we are responding at Bromford.


4 responses to “The English Patient. How Supporting People went wrong Part 1

  1. John – I could draft 487 parts to the story of what went wrong with Supporting People.

    The biggest failing without any doubt is that the original first report of late 1999 said that support was to be placed on a SECURE LEGAL AND FINANCIAL FOOTING.

    I still have paper copies of this first report archived and the above was said in its opening paragraph on page 1 too, yet of course SP never was.

    The last Labour government pulled the plug by taking away its ringfence yet not before the most perverse decision was made to give Liverpool City Council full ‘freedoms and flexibilities’ 12 months ahead of the ringfence removal.

    LCC were rewarded with this for being the ONLY administering authority who failed their SP audit commission inspection AND failed the SP AC re-inspection!

    WTF as someone of my age should never initialise!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe. I know what you mean about 487 parts…and every one a tearjerking tragedy. The Report from the House of Commons Library that I link to in my post is actually a pretty good summary. I was part of the ODPM’s so called Expert Reference Group at the time of the ring-fence removal. ‘Told you so’ didn’t come close.


  3. Pingback: Addicted to SP. How Supporting People went wrong Part 2 | John Wade·

  4. Pingback: What Bromford did next. How Supporting People went wrong Part 3. | John Wade·

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