Clause 34

– in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Pilot schemes

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 34, page 41, line 15, leave out paragraph (c).

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 31, in clause 34, page 41, line 20, leave out subsection (6).

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I shall try to move through the amendments reasonably quickly, because we have discussed pilot schemes at the evidence sessions and in an earlier debate today. The clause provides for such schemes, making it clear that, under the previous clauses, Ministers can make regulations for a pilot scheme and time-limit it for a period not exceeding 36 months. These are probing amendments, and amendment 30 tests how the schemes will run and what we may learn from them.

Subsection (4)(c) defines whom the scheme applies to, and it can apply either to a geographical area or to a specific class of individuals. The provision that I seek to delete states that the scheme can be applied even more narrowly—to particular people by reference to prescribed criteria or on a sampling basis. One danger with pilot schemes is that if they are chosen to run in an area that is particularly hospitable to them, where all the local authorities, primary care trusts and other statutory bodies are gung-ho about making it work, it may be successful but that will not give us a realistic view of what will happen if we introduce it throughout the country, where those factors may not all hold true.

Furthermore, if we narrow too much the group to which the pilot applies, we may not fully see what will happen in the real world. For example, if it applies to a small number of people, other services, such as brokerage and advice services, are unlikely to arise, because there will be too few people to access them. Another problem is that if the local authority has a small number of people to whom the new provisions apply, but it still has to provide all its other services, it will incur the costs of parallel running.

What areas are the Government looking at for the schemes? Will they be only in areas where the local authority and other statutory providers are volunteers? That would be helpful, but it would not give us a very good impression of what might happen if we introduced the scheme throughout the country. The Minister alluded to the specified class as a person, and, to see what works, we must ensure that different categories of people are given the chance to use the services. For example, we want to ensure that the schemes cover a significant number of people with mental health problems and learning and other disabilities, so that, across the range of disabilities, we get a fair picture of what works, what does not and what might need to change.

Amendment 31 would leave out an objectionable aspect of the clause—subsection (6). The Minister knows from the evidence-taking sessions that I have some impatience with pilot schemes—perhaps it is just from being in opposition, and it will be knocked out of me in due course. I object to the fact that once a pilot scheme has been running for up to 36 months, it can be replaced by a further pilot scheme making the same or similar provision. I have a vision of perpetual pilot schemes—without our ever coming to a decision. If we are going to run a scheme, we should run it and then, at the end, or earlier if we have some clear data, make a decision. We should decide either that something does not work or is not practical and therefore stop doing it, or that we have enough evidence, on the balance of probabilities, to move forward—we should not have another pilot scheme.

The thing that pilot schemes miss, which we kicked around a little in the evidence sessions, is balance. It is right to make sure that, when we roll out a new system of anything, it is well designed and will work. Equally, we might have evidence, which we do from the pilots on social care, that that way of designing things has good outcomes for most people—it can deliver better outcomes at lower cost. There is a cost involved in running lots of pilots and not rolling the system out across the country for three or four years. The cost is for the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of people who would be entitled to the new way of doing things, possibly giving them better outcomes at lower cost to the taxpayer, but they are prevented from doing so, because instead of rolling it out across the country we are running a number of pilot schemes.

While recognising that we need to get things right, we should also recognise that we have already piloted individual budgets between 2005 and 2007 on the adult social care side. Those pilots have been evaluated and the Department has the evidence. Certainly for working age adults, the evidence was clear. As the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, said earlier, there were some concerns and some issues raised with older people—in some cases the  pilots were not entirely successful. However, there is a fair bit of evidence already that the stuff works, and that came through in our evidence session, both from Liz Sayce and Paul Davies.

The new pilots in the Bill will only commence in 2010 so, if they run for the full three years, we are looking at the system not even starting to be rolled out across the country in 2013. In the four years between now and then there will be many people who could have benefited who will be prevented from doing so. We need to have that at the back of our mind as we press to go further and faster. I know Ministers want to do that, but unless we push a little harder, we are in danger of never quite getting to where we want to be.

If we look at some of the other organisations involved, there is clear pressure from outside about making this go faster. Sue Bott, the director of the National Council for Independent Living, has said that the pilots would cause “unnecessary delay,” given the Department of Health’s piloting of individual budgets between 2005 and 2007. She said in a brief:

“I feel that if there’s an acceptance of the principle, then let’s get on with it and make it” work.

“There’s enough information on the ground.”

Anne McDonald, programme director for community well-being at the Local Government Association, involved in the delivery of such services on the ground, said that there was a danger that people could feel “piloted out” and that the new pilots needed to be clear in what they set out to achieve.

When the Minister responds, she could set out—perhaps not in detail now—what the objectives of the pilots are, so that we could know when they have been successful. It would be helpful if the pilots in the clause could only run for up to 36 months—it would be interesting if the Minister could give us an indication of how long the Government expect pilots to run for, and an assurance that if, as those pilots are running, there is evidence early on about what works, there would be no necessity to run the pilot right to the end. Ministers should reserve the right to say, “We know what works, we know what is successful, so we are going to get on with it and do the job.”

The final authority that I would pray in aid would be the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which I mentioned in my remarks this morning. It stated that

“it is disappointing that the Bill”— or the talk around it—

“only proposes that this will be piloted in 2010 in a small number of ‘trailblazing’ public authority areas.”

The EHRC clearly wants the process to go faster as well. I am sure that Ministers are keen for it to do so, but the key is getting the balance between caution and making it happen on the ground.

That is the essence of my amendments. In conclusion, I again quote Mr. Davies, when giving us evidence:

“I can well understand why people would want to feel the comfort of a pilot and see how that worked; I just do not agree with it. There is more than sufficient evidence to justify going straight ahead.”——[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 10 February 2009; c. 19, Q20.]

That is a man who has delivered such things on the ground. He is not a visionary in a think-tank, who does not have to make things work. He is the director of adult social care at an authority with a fifth of the national coverage of people with individual budgets, making this stuff work on the ground and delivering those services. He is clear that there is enough evidence to move ahead. Perhaps the Government could be a little more ambitious about the timetable.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister 2:30 pm, 26th February 2009

I would like to pick up where the hon. Member for Forest of Dean left off and ask the Minister whether the Department has identified a budget for these pilots and if so, what it is. Also, how many pilots does she envisage and what is the time frame for them? As was said in evidence, there is a lot of keenness to see this rolled out across the country as quickly as possible.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The aim of the trailblazing is to test robustly how the right to control can be made to work in practice. To do that, we want to retain maximum flexibility in how the trailblazers are designed. We also wish to have the ability to collect additional evidence from further trailblazers, if necessary. The broad powers in the clause are intended to achieve that.

It is the Government’s intention that the trailblazer phase will involve eight local authority areas. We have not yet chosen the locations and we want to discuss that with our advisory group, disabled people and authorities. No decision will be announced until the Bill receives Royal Assent. However, we have allocated £5 million on the basis that the trailblazers will commence from 2010 in England and we anticipate that the results will be available in 2012-13. That is the time frame we are currently working within. I hope that that reassures members of the Committee. We have not yet invited applications for the involvement nor have we considered the terms of the tender but we want to allow evaluators of the right-to-control trailblazers to use their expertise in designing the form of the evaluation.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean expressed some concerns about amendment 31. I can reassure him that it is not our intention to run additional pilots. The provision would allow a new trailblazer to be set up if the planned trailblazers highlighted the need for further information or, for example, if there was a gap between the expiry of a trailblazing scheme and the national roll-out of the right to control. We would not want local authorities to be faced with a gap when they were not offering that service. The provision is designed for a certain amount of flexibility and to allow part of the trailblazer to start at a later stage if we find in our evidence and evaluations that we need to look further at different aspects of the right to control.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

May I press the hon. Lady on that? Her first point was that subsection (6) was designed to enable a new pilot scheme to be run when more evidence was required. That relates specifically to a pilot scheme being replaced by further pilot schemes making the same—or similar—provisions. That sounds like we are talking about rolling one scheme on, not setting one up. I am trying to tease out some different information, and I am not sure that that point is entirely convincing.

The second argument cited was very unconvincing. I do not want the roll-out of the scheme throughout the country to be avoided just by rolling pilots forward. If we have run a pilot for three years but are not at the point at which we can roll it out, we will not want Ministers to have the option of rolling the pilot forward. We want pressure to exist so that they have got to get things working. If we allow for excuses, we could be limiting ourselves to a few pilot phases, and when we hit inevitable difficulties—there are bound to be stumbles on the way—there would be a danger that we would resort to the pilots, rather than making the scheme work.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

We certainly do not intend to cause undue delay. However, there could be a genuine problem if, for example, the Government agreed to roll out the programme in 2014 and a local authority found that the 36-month period of its test ended in October in the previous year, because that would mean that there would, in effect, be a three-month gap. We intend to cover that possibility, not to provide an excuse or an undue delay. We want to cover technical issues during an interim period.

The hon. Gentleman is right that, to attain maximum flexibility, the provision would allow us to conduct a further trailblazer in another area. We want further information, not the same set of information for which the original trailblazer was set up. We want to ensure maximum flexibility, which is why all the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure. However, we also want to ensure that we are working closely with local authorities, disabled people, voluntary organisations and evaluators to ensure that we get the best possible evidence—I hope the hon. Gentleman accepts my reassurances on that.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that assurance. One point of tabling amendments is to have a discussion and set some boundaries, and to make clear to Ministers what will happen when they bring measures forward.

We have had a good discussion about the nature of the pilots. I urge the hon. Lady, when the Government think about which areas to choose, not to look simply at areas where there are willing volunteers. If the pilot is going to be successful, we need to test it in areas where at least one part of the mix—it could be the PCT or the local authority—is not mustard keen and needs a bit of cajoling. Given what has happened with adult social care, that could be more representative of the challenges that will be faced than if everyone is a willing volunteer.

Given the hon. Lady’s reassurances and what she said about the Government’s intention to move along quickly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.