Features: September 17th, 2010

By Arlene Adams

By 2026, 40 per cent of the UK population will be over the age of 50, and councils must now start to consider effective methods of reducing costs, whilst maintaining high service standards. The author explores the importance of addressing and negotiating cost savings without reducing quality. She suggests looking to other industry sectors to find the answers.

At the same time councils face the increasing challenge of an ageing population and increased citizen expectations, they are also faced with the shrinking of public spending. As a result, councils and their partners will have to make significant savings. Making a few cuts round the edges will not work. A radical transformation of service delivery is the only way to make the necessary savings while continuing to evolve the service citizens expect.

Personalisation agenda

In line with the Government’s personalisation agenda councils must change the model of working. They must grant citizen control; personalisation and choice is key to drive forward the shape of public services. Personalistion now signifies and represents the biggest change in social work and social care practice for a generation. A mainstream agenda, supported by policy and underpinned by huge public investment, the Personalisation agenda empowers individuals to determine their personal care entitlements. By transferring choice and power to people who need support to get on with their lives, we are not only allowing them to choose their services, but also who and where they purchase from. This is a fundamental shift and one which has been successfully achieved already in other industries such as travel and finance.

There are three main areas to consider. Adult social care has largely been shaped around a ‘push service;’ a provision that was typically enforced or directed upon a person by a council. Services and care entitlement were defined and issued by the council to the user. The user had to adhere and comply with these. Not only did this mean that the service was not tailored, but it also created extremely time consuming and expensive administration tasks for councils.

In these challenging economic times we must carefully consider moving towards a ‘pull service;’ allowing citizens to take control. Consider here alternative sectors and their service processes. The airline industry is an ideal example; holiday makers can now search for holiday destinations and book tickets online, order in-flight meals and print boarding passes. This is a simple process that empowers the holiday maker to take charge of their journey, budget and holiday experience. Arguably, we could say that it delivers a better experience. Transfer this approach to the delivery of adult social care; if a citizen is to take control of their own care plan, not only does this reduce costs but it improves the experience for the user. The council would become a broker, rather than the service delivery arm.

Transparency in financial reporting

In order for adult social care departments to address and negotiate costs, we must consider better management reporting and information availability. Forward thinking and highly innovative technological and consultancy solutions can provide a wealth of information to councils to give them transparency in their financial decisions.

Benchmarking services allow for information and data to be presented to a council, enabling them to improve their commissioning negotiation processes. For example, councils and Primary Care Trusts can work together to renegotiate placement costs. Hertfordshire County Council is a prime example here; 24,000 adults require assistance in the county, 3,000 of whom reside in care homes or supported living developments. Utilising MyCareCosts, a solution that, defined simply, acts as a placement calculator, the council plans to review 1,250 cases over a three year period. The first 50 cases already reviewed have saved the council £345,000 per annum. The council proposes to save a further £2,000,000 as a result of reviewing 500 more cases in 2010/11. Long-term, Hertfordshire hopes to release £5,000,000 from placement renegotiations. A further example of good practice is The London Borough of Redbridge which is deploying a personalisation technology solution to enable its adult community to shape their own lives and the support they receive no matter how they receive it.

Karen Cox, development manager at the Borough explained: “We want our adult community to feel confident that the systems and services in place are of superior quality, safe and promote independence, well-being and dignity. In order to achieve this we needed a future-proof and robust solution. Our personalisation technology solution allows individuals to access advice and information about care which is accessible, flexible and, most importantly secure. Long-term we hope to empower our adult community by providing the tools for them to manage their own care through personal choice and control.”

The introduction of automated systems that remove the need for human intervention is, ultimately key for fiscal savings and a personalised approach to adult social care. Through commissioning tools, citizens can make better use of their service provider contracts by enabling them to match and book services against client needs. Meanwhile they can also ensure that up to date reports on occupancy levels and unmet needs are available.

Edinburgh City Council for instance, uses solutions such as CareBooking to track, monitor, commission and report on their pre-committed respite contracts.This helps to locate availability and reserve it much faster, relieve pressure on waiting lists, and bring forward the delivery of much needed services cost-effectively.

Ultimately, an integrated financial management system is a pre-requisite for councils, especially with the move to Personalisation. Not only can systems automate money movement, but they also reduce the huge cost of manual administration, and increase efficiencies. Consider worldwide banking; money transfers, both national and international, they are solely completed through automated computer systems. Is now the time for adult social care to consider these automated processes and the wealth of benefits it brings?

An organisation’s strongest asset: people

A third consideration may be that of the costs of an organisation’s workforce. We are increasingly witnessing the rise of remote working; many employees now work away from the traditional office, in the field, for example. Such style of work is becoming progressively more widespread as both technology and lifestyles change the way services are delivered.

The remote workforce therefore requires tools to complete work efficiently; to not only benefit the employee but also the council. For the council, their focus is on cost saving efficiencies and working smarter to improve productivity. It is essential therefore that councils look at how they can make people work more effectively.

Let’s explore the benefits of mobile working and mobile technologies, as demonstrated by Stockport City Council’s social work department. The adoption of remote working has saved the council £500,000 per annum, through office savings. Employee overheads and infrastructure costs such as computers, phone lines, electricity and rent for office space, have been dramatically reduced. These available funds can now be reallocated elsewhere; a form of financial recycling.

Implementing effective mobile solutions not only reduce costs and increase the morale of front line staff but often provide huge improvement in service for service users. If for example a social worker visiting a client at home has access to real time information the whole experience and value delivered from the visit can be improved.

In essence, the next decade is not about councils saving a few pounds, or cutting a few jobs; a radical transformation of service delivery is vital to ensure that our nation overcomes the challenge of an ageing population and the subsequent increase in demands on adult social services. Other industries have already achieved this transformation and councils should look to them to identify best practice and avoid the pitfalls.

Arlene Adams is managing director of OLM Systems, part of OLM Group. The company is an independent supplier of software solutions for children’s and adult services, with a growing presence in health. www.olmgroup.com