It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Austin. It always feels a bit risky to speak before one’s Front Benchers. Let us hope that I do not re-write Labour party policy and cause it to have to be unwritten two minutes later.
This is a really serious issue, as has been said. It is exceptionally impactful for individuals and the health and social care system. The Minister rightly notes the backlog that has built up in the 10 years since the DoLS regulations were put in, that it has been five years since the critical Cheshire West judgment, and that the system is cumbersome. It is right for us to look at that.
As played out on Second Reading, we have significant concerns that this legislation is rushed. We will frequently come back to the point on the code of practice, because it feels as though we are dealing with half the information. We are putting significant arrangements into law, knowing that we will be relying on another code of practice. I am glad to hear of the legal basis for that code of practice, but would like to see it alongside the Bill. Otherwise, how do we know whether these arrangements are really suitable? We do not know what the counterpart arrangements in the code of practice would be. I certainly have fears that the process is rushed, that the arrangements are a little bare, and that we are expecting to fill them out with the code of practice, which we will not get to see during these proceedings, so there is a risk that we will not achieve what we are trying to.
I remember the Cheshire West judgment well. When I looked it up last night, I could not believe that it happened in 2014, five years ago. I was the lead member for adult social care and health on my local authority, Nottingham City Council. I got one of those concerned calls from the director of adult social services that one gets periodically, saying, “We have a problem. Oh, goodness me!” We reacted, as I suspect every other upper-tier local authority did, by saying, “There is a legal risk, which has been tested in case law, that for this case load, we, the local authority, have not been complying with our responsibilities in law, which is very serious.”
Again, we did what I suspect everybody did, which was to traffic-light the case load—to sort it into red, amber and green—to indicate which cases we thought matched most closely the circumstances of the judgment and therefore where the risk was greatest, where there was less risk, and where we thought there was probably no relation. We matched our assessment capacity against that, so that we could get on with ensuring that we were complying with the law, as we would be expected to do.
Assessment capacity is not an infinite resource. It is not a matter of putting in an extra bit of money and gaining more assessors. Assessment capacity across social care and social work in general is increasingly stretched. Local government has been an exceptionally difficult place to work for eight years, so that was a really challenging exercise.
It has been some time since I led that brief in Nottingham and was in local government, but there were certainly times when I felt that the traffic light system was no longer a way of trying to remove an initial risk; it had become the way in which local authorities would have to operate with stretched resources. They would ask, “Where are we most at risk of challenge? Where are we least at risk of challenge? That is how we will match up our resources.” That is not a satisfactory way to operate. Today and in future weeks, it behoves us to ensure that whatever arrangements we come up with go past that and ensure that we operate in the best interests of the individual. That is all we are concerned about, and why I still have concerns.
I am sure we will come back to the subject of impact assessments in future sittings. The impact assessment is very clear about what it would take to develop a series of people who could make the assessments, but there is no sense of who will resource those individuals, whether we have enough of them, how we might find them and how we will grow them for 10 years’ time.