Our current annual plan sets out an exciting new direction for the Wales Audit Office.
The one thing that has stuck with me since I read the plan was the clear and long overdue focus on ‘why we are here’. To put it succinctly we have a privileged position to assure, explain and inspire. And with this in mind myself, Matt Brushett and Euros Lake attended the recent Age Alliance Wales conference to present the emerging findings of our review on the ‘Front Door’ to Social Care.
A bit of background…
Rising demand from demographic changes with the ageing population in Wales, coupled with the ongoing impact of austerity on public funding, resulted in the Welsh Government introducing the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to reform, simplify and modernise social care. The Act also requires delivery of services to be driven by partnerships and co-operation and promotes preventative services that can stop needs from escalating by ensuring that the right help is available at the right time.
To do this, authorities need to have created a comprehensive ‘front door’ to social care; to have in place effective systems to provide those who contact them for help with appropriate and tailored information, advice and assistance (IAA) service. An effective IAA service will direct people to preventive and community-based services but also identify when someone needs an assessment or more specialist help. The focus of our work has been to judge the effectiveness of this new ‘front door’ to social care.
‘It generally happens that assurance keeps an even pace with ability’ – Samuel Johnson
Three years on from the implementation of the ground-breaking legislation, one of our important messages to the conference was the assurance we could give that key aspects of the act are being delivered, in particular that those who need help and assistance are not slipping through the net and are able to access social care if they need to. We were also able to provide assurance that safeguarding arrangements were generally effective and were being prioritised to ensure vulnerable people were protected. However, we also noted ongoing challenges with provision of service to carers and more work was needed to provide carers with equal access to services.
‘The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see’ – Ayn Rand
Two of the key strands of the Act focus on local authorities creating an effective Information, Advice and Assistance function and having sufficient preventative and community-based services to direct people towards. Through our review we explained in detail why these are important. Using our significant research on carers we were also able to highlight and set out what makes a service ‘good’ and what needs to change to help improve people’s well-being. We also highlighted where there are gaps at present and through our recommendations what needs to change to raise standards and improve efficiency and effectiveness.
‘The only time we create any kind of substantive change is when we reach out … and inspire and motivate’ Alexandria Ocasio Cortez
I mentioned our privileged position at the start; our ability to be able to get to see the people who make the decisions and walk through systems from end-to-end to identify what works and what needs to change. Through our review we were able to identify what does not work, promote good practice examples and inspire public services to raise their game. Feeding back without fear or favour directly to those who deliver services allows us to challenge public bodies to step up and improve.
Inspiring others, inspiring us…
Listening to the other speakers it also became very clear to Matt, Euros and myself how trusted and respected the Wales Audit Office is. Yes, we get challenged; and yes, we get kickback on some of our harder messages. But overall people listen to what we say and value our input. They view us an independent voice that will say it as it is. But they also see us a body that can help cast a light on what needs to change and that can help and support public bodies to improve. We concluded that being able to assure, explain and inspire is the right fit for our work and we should never take our fortunate position for granted.
Nick Selwyn is a Local Government Manager at the Wales Audit Office, with responsibilities for our programme of all-Wales local government studies. Prior to joining the WAO 15 years ago he worked for several local authorities in housing and social care and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.