To consider the report of the Corporate
Director Social Services.
Consideration was given to report of the Corporate Director of Social Services.
At the invitation of the Leader, the Corporate Director of Social Services presented the report which provided an analysis of current demand, and outlined recommendations for future potential charges for citizens accessing transport based on comparable public transport costs. The report followed the introduction of the Assisted Transport Policy from April 2019, with the undertaking of eligibility assessments for new and existing citizens. It was agreed that following completion of these assessments, feedback would be provided to the Executive.
In terms of the background, he reported that in January 2019 Social Services transported 190 citizens ‘to and from’ community options venues, on average 120 citizens a day. Historically, assisted transport was provided to citizens attending community options without any formal assessment of need to use such transport, i.e. there has been automatic entitlement regardless of an individual’s situation.
The Corporate Director said one of the key aims of the Directorate was to maximise citizens’ independence and minimise dependency to enable individuals to live and travel independently within their communities. Social Services does not have a statutory duty to provide transport, but does have a duty to meet that need if the need cannot be met by an individual’s own resources or community resource. Further, in line with the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 we adopted the principle of undertaking a strength based assessment which considered the resources of citizens, including access to their own mobility vehicle, bus pass or benefit entitlement.
The Corporate Director referred to sections 2.4 and 2.5 of the report which stated that in April 2019 demand had reduced, and the Department were able to relinquish 1 vehicle, making the current budget allocation for community options transport £321k.
He said Members will also note that 149 assessments have been undertaken by Social Workers to determine eligibility, and the details of these were outlined in section 7 of the report. However, since the preparation of the report the figures have changed, and there were now 101 individuals accessing community options independently. 24 individuals have been deemed eligible and would have free transport; and 14 originally were deemed as exceptional circumstances, but this had unfortunately recently reduced to 11 due to three people passing away, and it was these 11 individuals we are asking to charge for the use of community options transport.
The Corporate Director referred Members to section 4.3 of the report which captured some of the views of citizens currently accessing the service independently. He confirmed that in order to accommodate this and support parents the opening hours have been extended either side of the day, to make the service more flexible.
He then referred to the options outlined in the report, and recommended Option 1. This was in line with the Council’s Income Policy 2014 which recommended full cost recovery where appropriate. He said Option 2 sought to charge a cost equivalent to public transport costs for accessing the vehicles. Both these Options would enable the Directorate to reduce the current fleet from 8 to 4 vehicles and ensure a more sustainable model for the future. However, Option 3 which recommended the ‘status quo’ prior to April 2019 could result in an estimated additional cost to the budget of approximately £90k should every citizen currently accessing the service through alternative means return to using community option assisted transport.
The Corporate Director concluded that if a charge for the 11 individuals using community options assisted transport was not introduced, then it would be unfair to the other 135 individuals either eligible under the policy for free transport or those currently making their own way to and from community options independently.
At the invitation of the Leader, Councillor K. Rowson, Vice-Chair of the Social Services Scrutiny Committee reported the reasons for the alternative recommendation presented by the Scrutiny Committee.
He said those of the Committee who voted for the alternative recommendation did so because they felt that the previous decision on Home to School and Home to College Transport had set a precedent for the administration.
They argued that by voting for Option 1 or 2 they would be unfairly penalising some of the most vulnerable people in our community. They also claimed that the good work undertaken by the Department in compiling the information was not the only side of the story, and that huge pressure would be brought upon some of the families of service users.
Finally, they argued that given the Council’s much better financial settlement with a £4 million uplift in funding, the proposed saving of approximately £100,000 could not be sufficiently justified in this instance, as there was the potential for users to stop attending community options completely, and this could affect their wellbeing.
The Executive Member for Social Services said this was a very comprehensive report and was evidence of the level of engagement undertaken by the Senior Management Team in Adult Services.
He had followed progress and the discussions undertaken on the Policy since 2017, to ensure that all service users had been treated fairly, and with all questions in relation to safeguarding, isolation and loneliness being answered.
He then referred to the Options outlined in the report, and said whilst Option 1 followed the Council’s Income Policy, i.e. full cost recovery, he felt this Option could cause unnecessary financial hardship, and as a result could not support this Option.
In relation to Option 3, the Executive Member said whilst he had taken the views of the Scrutiny Committee on board, he could not support the alternative recommendation, and he said he was surprised that since 2015, there had been no reference at any meetings to revert to the status quo.
He said Option 2 reflected the Council’s policy to ensure that our citizens retain their independence, and would assist the most vulnerable people who access our services to travel in a method of their own choosing. As a result, he concluded that Option 2 was his preferred Option, and believed it was a reasonable compromise and recognised the level of engagement and consultation that had been undertaken, and the positive feedback received by the Department.
The Leader commended the Department on presenting a clear and understandable report. In relation to the comments of the Scrutiny Committee he said it was difficult to compare this with the Home to School and Home to College Transport. In January 2019 discussions were around potential budget cuts and savings that were being submitted year on year for consideration. Following in-depth consultation and lengthy discussions of the outcomes of that consultation, along with other mitigating factors, it was decided that the Home to School/College Transport would no longer be put before Council for potential savings as part of the budget setting process. This decision provided piece of mind to parents and grandparents, but would also save Officer time in having to compile the data in preparation for the budget setting process.
The Leader then sought clarification that in January 2019 when the review of social services assisted transport was undertaken, whether the potential for a charging policy was always intended.
In response the Corporate Director confirmed that when the Social Services Assisted Transport Policy was approved in January 2019, it was also agreed that Officers would look at potential costings for the service on a full cost recovery basis or alternatively costs comparable to public transport, in order to develop charges for those citizens eligible to continue to access transport. If Members did not want to implement a charging system, then the decision could have been taken to not proceed with the review at that time.
The Executive Member for Regeneration & Economic Development commended the way in which the review had been managed. He said the key issue moving forward was to ensure access to the service for the benefit of the community, and he was confident that this would continue.
The Executive Member for Education supported the comments made and said the amount of engagement that had been undertaken was very pleasing, and supported Option 2.
The Vice-Chair of the Social Services Scrutiny Committee confirmed that he also supported Option 2.
Upon a vote being taken it was unanimously
RESOLVED that the report be accepted and the Executive note the progress made in assessing the needs of citizens in line with the Assisted Transport Policy, including the outcomes of the assessments. The Executive recommend that only those citizens who remain eligible for assisted transport continue to receive support free of charge. Those citizens who are deemed ineligible but have exceptional circumstances continue to receive support but at a charge based on similar costs illustrated earlier in the report, reflecting public transport rates. The charges would be based on the future configuration of transport required to deliver the future model of Community Options services (Option 2).