Memorandum by the Tunstall Group (LAG
1.1 The Tunstall Group is the UK's leading
provider of social alarms and associated control centres, offering
protection and assistance to older and vulnerable people. Our
systems allow both carers and those at risk to maintain their
independence, secure in the knowledge that help is immediately
1.2 Tunstall designs, manufactures, installs
and services communication equipment for people living at home,
in sheltered accommodation, residential and nursing homes. We
currently provide equipment to over 700 local authorities and
housing associations in the UK and many more worldwide. We are
also leading the development of new technologies, such as mobile
social alarms, telemedicine and local information networks to
help people access services in their local communities.
1.3 Tunstall's business is based upon close
links with local government. Our social alarm systems offer protection
to older and vulnerable people including those at risk from crimes
such as domestic violence, racial harassment and other victimisation.
Changes in the political structure, management, financing and
service evaluation of local government have a deep impact upon
our business. The transparent and accountable administration of
local government is crucial to our business and thus the effective
provision of vital services for vulnerable people.
2.1 Tunstall welcomes the opportunity to
submit written evidence to the Select Committee's inquiry into
Local Government Governance. We applaud the decision by the Committee
to hold an inquiry on this issue as recent legislation has introduced
many changes at local authority level. There are also proposals
in the pipeline that will bring additional changes to local authorities.
It is important that the impact of these on political management
structures is effectively assessed by Parliament.
2.2 Tunstall has broadly welcomed the Government's
local government reforms and its overall objective of improving
the machinery of local government and the services provided for
local communities. However, we believe these changes have not
been without difficulties. In fact, we remain concerned that,
together, these changes have introduced a level of uncertainty
at local authority level that has stalled decision-making and
eventual service provision.
3. Main Points
3.1 The Local Government Act 2000introducing
a system of elected mayors or cabinet systemsis among several
reforms to local government that has had an impact on the efficiency,
transparency and accountability of the workings of local government.
Tunstall believes the Select Committee's examination of the implications
of Part II of the Local Government Act 2000 should be put within
the context of the significant changes already imposed on local
3.2 For example, the Government has introduced:
Local Government Act 1999replaced
Compulsory Competitive Tendering with Best Value with effect from
1 April 2000. Best Value requires all local authorities to monitor
and review the delivery of all services, including housing, social
services and other care services, to measure their performance
against benchmark standards of quality. This policy is in its
infancy and there is evidence that local authorities are struggling
to make purchasing decisions until they are confident they will
achieve the necessary performance standards and thus demonstrate
Health Act 1999introduced
a number of structural changes to the future provision of health
and social services. The legislation set up a new Primary Care
Trust system to oversee the provision of local health and social
care services, such as care for older people. This reform is ongoing
and the working arrangements between health and social services
are still evolving. The Government's NHS Planand more recently
the Health and Social Care Modernisation Billwill seek
to build upon these foundations. In its evidence to the House
of Commons Health Select Committee, the British Medical Association
(BMA) expressed concern at the "threatening pace of change"
and the late delivery of guidance on the setting up of Primary
Fundingone of the biggest
funding changes at local level has been the replacement of Housing
Benefit-funded housing support services with a new Supporting
People scheme. This new grant will come into effect in April 2003.
In the interim, a transitional housing benefit scheme is in place.
Amongst local authorities there is considerable concern as to
the future funding for community alarm services. The Government
has yet to determine whether funding will be met through Supporting
People or the Housing Revenue Account and we would urge the Select
Committee to recommend the Government make a decision on this
as soon as possible in order to preserve effective service delivery.
3.3 In addition to this, there has been
competition for funds at local authority level. Despite the July
2000 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announcement of significant
additional money for health and social services, this does not
come into effect until April 2001. Until then, winter pressures
will exacerbate demand on services. Capital expenditure is likely
to be secondary to the need of meeting existing demands. The pressures
on funding make the need for effective decision-making at council
level even more imperative.
3.4 These changes come against a backdrop
of proposals to alter the method of allocating funds to local
authorities. The Local Government Finance Green Paper seeks to
introduce greater stability and predictability to the allocation
of central government money and the raising of capital expenditure.
Whilst Tunstall welcomes this reform, it is yet another change
to which councils may be slow to adapt. We urge the Select Committee
to recommend that the impact of these new changes be thoroughly
examined and appropriate guidanceand fundingprovided
to allow local authorities to ensure a seamless delivery of services.
4. Implications for Local Services
4.1 These changes have had a cumulative
impact upon local authorities. We believe the myriad changes have
stalled the local authority decision-making process which, from
our experience, now threatens the provision of social alarm and
other care services. This presents a very real danger that many
local residents who need these services will be denied the necessary
4.2 We are already witnessing many local
authorities, constrained by a spending "paralysis",
being forced to withdraw free social alarm provision from some
of their residents. This places many older and vulnerable people
in a dilemma: meet the costs themselves by cutting back in some
other area of household expenditure or decline the service on
which they depend.
4.3 The introduction of new forms of political
management is exacerbating these difficulties. Until local authorities
establish these structures with the decision making processes
agreed and working effectively, major purchasing decisions are
invariably placed "on hold" with a consequent potential
for a decline in the provision of key services. The feedback we
are getting from our local authority customers is that this is
exactly the scenario that local authority managers are currently
5. Main Recommendations and Conclusion
5.1 Tunstall broadly welcomes the Government's
recent reforms for local government. We hope these will improve
overall service delivery in the long-term. However, we remain
concerned about the impact of all recent legal government legislation.
The Select Committee should examine the impact of the recent Local
Government Act 2000 in the context of these wider changes.
5.2 Tunstall calls on the Select Committee
to urge the Government to provide clear guidance well in advance
of changes to local government service provision, particularly
dramatic changes such as the introduction of Primary Care Trusts
and Best Value. Although the changes are subject to consultation,
the provision of guidance and funding it is vital if a seamless
transition is to be assured.
5.3 One specific area in which the Committee
could assist is by urging the Government to make sure service
provision is maintained whilst these changes are introduced. The
current arrangements have produced an inertia which is undermining
service provision and, in the case of social alarms, threatening
their continued funding.
24 Oral Evidence by Dr John Chisholm, Chairman of
the GP Committee at the BMA, to the House of Commons Health Select
Committee: 12 November 1998. Back