I will be relatively brief. The clause will expand the Secretary of State’s powers under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 so that payments can be made to all providers delivering social care services. It will also allow the Secretary of State to delegate the new power to special health authorities via directions.
The power in the 2008 Act excludes providers that operate for profit. Given that social care in England is largely delivered by private providers operating on a profit-making basis, the Secretary of State is unable to make direct payments to much of the sector under the existing power. Crucially, the power can be used only by financial assistance bodies engaged in providing social care services or services connected with social care services.
The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the need for speed and flexibility in providing support to the care sector. Without the clause, our only means to deliver financial assistance to social care providers is via local authorities. We are clear that the power will not be used to amend or replace the existing system of funding for adult social care, whereby funding for state provision is funded via local authorities, largely through local income and supplemented by Government grant.
The new power will allow the Secretary of State to react to unforeseen and changing circumstances by directing financial assistance social care providers with greater speed and in a more targeted manner. That is one of the learnings that we are seeking to implement as a result of what has happened during the recent pandemic. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
I will be very brief, not least because we will not divide the Committee. However, I could not let us go past the clause without mentioning the heading. I must read it from the Bill because it gives me so much pleasure: “Provision of social care services: financial assistance”. Wouldn’t that be something in this country?
It is quite something to see the Government seeking to establish a mechanism to fund social care because we have been waiting 11 years for them to do so. During tomorrow’s Budget, we will listen with interest for news of support for social care. Given that most of the Budget has been leaked already, I dare say we will be disappointed. I feel a little as though the clause is the parliamentary equivalent of being threatened with a good time.
We do not have any issue with the establishment of such a mechanism, although our preference would be for that to be done by the Department that leads on local government, rather than by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, because we think that that is confusing. However, we do not oppose the principle behind the clause.
I can foresee the scenario in which this power would be desirable, but I would like the Minister to reiterate on the record that it will not lead to the routine commissioning of private providers outside the commissioning plans of the local authority. Each local authority puts incredible efforts into commissioning services in its community. The last thing local authorities want is someone doing a sideline arrangement on a different matter. To be clear, this is an exceptional power—almost an emergency power—and not one that we would expect to be used frequently.
I think I can give the shadow Minister that reassurance. The clause is intended to reflect some of the learning from the pandemic. There are occasions when such intervention is necessary, but there is no intention, as I said in my remarks, to in any way go round or replace the current commissioning functions of the local authority. I have had discussions with the Local Government Association on exactly that point, so I hope I can give him the reassurance he seeks.