While local authorities wait to see the Government’s plans for what has been hailed a ‘once-in-a-generation’ reform in children’s social care, it is possible to get ahead and start understanding and shaping local provision better now with the help of the market-leading strategy and negotiation tool CareCubed.

The children’s social care market has been under much scrutiny of late with two recent reports shedding light on the state of the sector: the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Children’s Social Care Report. A Government response was due to be published by the end of 2022 but is now expected early in 2023.

The CMA report found a shortage of appropriate places in children’s homes and with foster carers and highlighted that children are often being placed too far from their previous homes and families. It also highlighted high levels of debt being carried by some private providers of children’s homes in England and Wales and found that large private sector providers of fostering services and children homes appear to be making higher profits in England and Wales than would be expected in a well functioning market. The strain being placed on local authorities as a result was found to be limiting scope to fund other important children’s activities and services.

One of the suggestions made by the CMA report was for the formation of collective bodies to support local authorities and help them leverage their role as purchasers. The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care echoed this with a recommendation for the establishment of Regional Care Cooperatives.

At iESE we are all too aware that children’s services face a lack of options and are often under pressure to accept what is offered by providers. We know this is a difficult market to operate in but remain confident the children’s CareCubed licence can bring immediate quick wins and help support medium-to-longer term strategic planning to start allowing local authorities to understand their market and identify ways to work more closely with those providers offering value for money and good outcomes. This is evidenced in our case studies (see pages 6 and 7). There are two versions of the CareCubed children’s module – a council version which gives unlimited user licences for council officers to work on the cohorts of cases, and the Place-based licence which gives controlled access to care providers and health service colleagues to allow them to input information directly into CareCubed. This supports collaborative working, reduces local authority workload, and helps aid transparent negotiations due to standardised information being collected across providers. It means that councils can take a ‘snapshot’ of the local market to get a better understanding of the different business models, operating profits and services offered.

“CareCubed can help with bringing new supply to market. By using the place-based licence and working from the ground up it helps reduce the fears providers have around regulation, property and recruitment.”

Nik Jones, Sales Executive at iESE

The CareCubed tool can help address the main issues highlighted in the CMA report and help local authorities prepare and be on the front foot for any upcoming children’s market reforms. Find out below how our market leading product can help local authorities with 1) capacity 2) collaboration 3) costing:

1) Capacity

The CMA report identified supplier barriers including regulation, property and planning, and recruitment and retention. Many of these elements can be factored into the CareCubed tool to help model services and help reduce provider concern. “CareCubed can help with bringing new supply to market. By using the place-based licence and working from the ground up it helps reduce the fears providers have around regulation, property and recruitment,” explained Nik Jones, Sales Executive at iESE. “For example, if you are going to start a new service you might say we need to pay what the local Tesco is paying so you can add that in alongside other what-if scenarios.” The report noted that some private providers were carrying high levels of debt, increasing the risk of failure, but it also true that some providers may not be costing high enough to ensure sustainability. CareCubed can help give oversight of the whole market to identify outliers and start having transparent discussions with providers. While historically local authorities have moved away from in-house provision, current market challenges, including workforce shortages, may lead to council-run services being re-established. CareCubed can help model what this provision could look like both in-house and externally and what the related costings would be.

2) Collaboration

While it is currently unknown what the Government’s recommendation will be regarding collaboration until a response to the CMA and independent report is given, we know some local authorities are already successfully using CareCubed to help allocate costs for placements across different stakeholders. “You can use CareCubed so these services can be jointly funded with neighbouring local authorities to develop a cross county collaborative procurement strategy and co-production of new services. If greater collaboration becomes mandatory in the future CareCubed offers an easy way to work together across the same cases,” Jones explained.

3) Costing

Placements in children’s social care are often expensive and lack of capacity results in these prices being agreed so care can be allocated. However, several local authorities including Surrey County Council and the London Borough of Hackney are already using the CareCubed Children’s licence to successfully manage uplift requests and agree prices based on benchmarked data for new placements (see pages 5 and 6 for more information). The place-based licence allows users to collect data from any provider, reducing the workload for the local authority. “With a place-based licence, all providers, can be given access to a lite version of CareCubed. This allows them to input their costs into a template which gives the local authority standardised data, helping them spot those outliers and do those sanity checks,” Jones said.

While the market is understandably a tough one to operate in, local authorities can still gain significant immediate benefits from implementing the CareCubed children’s tool ahead of any mandatory changes introduced by any future children’s social care reform.
“We have many examples where just from a few changes clients have made considerable cost savings. While not every provider is going to accept the benchmark price, the tool enables local authorities to start negotiations on the front foot with a robust evidence-based approach, helping guide providers in the right direction and giving local authorities some immediate cost control with the added advantage of helping develop medium-to-long term strategic projects too. It also means that Senior Managers at the local authority can understand the gap between prices currently paid and the true cost to deliver these services with a sensible amount of profit and return on capital. The focus then turns to market shaping and strategic projects to create a vibrant market with a choice of high-quality services,” Jones concluded.

To read more about how the children’s version of CareCubed is being used successfully by local authorities see pages 5 and 6 of the latest edition of Transform Magazine.

For a demonstration or to find out more about how CareCubed can help negotiate placements and shape children’s provision in your local authority contact: nik.jones@iese.org.uk.

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