Reflections on the last decade
When I was a minister for social care, budgets were beginning to tighten, councils were being squeezed and there was a need to restrict rises in council tax. I was frustrated that the only budget that wasn’t ring-fenced was adult social care. I was fighting a tough and losing battle which hasn’t got any better since.
Budgets have been slashed. Some councils have succeeded in reducing expenditure without cutting back on care budgets, but the impact for most has been a considerable budget reduction.
I’ve also been disappointed with the failure of a lot of councils to understand the benefits of extra care housing. In the main, planning departments aren’t aware, but the model can have a real impact on social care and NHS costs.
I also Chair a community mental health trust and see the difficulties in bringing together health and social care. In Somerset, we’re trying to work together, but it’s not happening everywhere. One of the reasons is that we all have financial issues which pull us apart as opposed to bringing us together.
Extra care has had an additional dilemma because in two-tier authorities, social care is managed by the county council and housing and planning by the district council. In that respect, we thought it’d be easier to work with unitary authorities because housing, planning and social care technically work together. However, that’s not the reality and many still don’t see the benefits of the model on each other’s budgets.
Projections for the next decade
If the current strategy doesn’t change and sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) continue, there’s reason to hope that the NHS and local authorities might work together more closely. I also hope that STPs will involve councils with housing and planning responsibilities. At the moment, the STP mechanisms are for getting budgets under control, however, once they start driving system change and pull in housing, things will move forward towards better outcomes.
There also needs to be increased public awareness of extra care. The advantages are great. There are benefits for all, including the housing market because extra care frees up larger family homes for others. People’s health can also improve which reduces time in hospital. However, people don’t know what’s on offer and don’t understand the different models of retirement housing.
At Oak Retirement, I’m looking to keep expanding and want to get another 10 schemes underway over the next five years. In this market, it all depends on financing. We are backed by Frogmore who are financing our developments. That is a positive relationship, and I hope they will continue to back our expansion.
I’m enjoying myself at the moment as I have a portfolio career. I have my role at Oak Retirement as well as Chair of Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and I Chair the Somerset STP too.
I see the current situation with health and social care from lots of angles; as part of a public body trying to make ends meet, and as a private organisation trying to establish developments and make a profit. I can see how complicated the world is at the moment. We need to make it simpler and better for all.
I got into politics because my dad was a big fan of Harold Wilson. I was brought up thinking about the important role of the public sector and making society more equal.
I’d have to say my time working with Tony Blair was inspirational. It’s sad that the incredible things he did whilst in office have been forgotten. We were close to full employment, child poverty fell; he was driving the country in the right direction.
Unfortunately, Iraq has tainted his legacy in the public’s mind. It’s true that no-one gets everything right, but it would be nice to forgive each other for our mistakes and for people to recognise the great work done under his leadership as well as learning the lessons from what went wrong.
I’ve learnt not to lose my temper in the work environment as it never works out well. Better decisions and outcomes happen when everyone stays calm. Also, work hard and think about the other person; put yourself in the position of others when making big decisions.
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