Sustainable Social Services – 15th November 2011

Mark Drakeford: It is always good to have a debate on social services, if only because—as Kirsty Williams has said—it is a subject too often neglected, particularly given that it is the only branch of the welfare state that has consistently been redistributive in its effect. Equally, it is a branch that has received particular attention here in Wales. Indeed, research conducted over more than 30 years has shown that Welsh local authorities are more likely than any others to invest a higher proportion of their budgets in social services for children and adults.

I hope to say something this afternoon on a small number of points to do with principles and priorities, but before doing so, and while mentioning resources, I want to say something about the Conservative Party’s amendment 3, which regrets the reduction in social services budgets. I leave aside its technical incompetence in failing to understand the ways in which funding lines that previously appeared in the social services budget have simply been transferred elsewhere, to appear, for example, as the Minister has already said, in the RSG. Rather, I simply want to point out that this is a party that earlier this afternoon called for more money for health, more money for education, more money for the economy and more money for capital investment. They entirely refused to answer a direct question from my colleague Jenny Rathbone about where that money is to be found. It really does beggar belief that they should be prepared to table an amendment that flies so fast in the face of their own demands.

Even the most rudimentary understanding of the Welsh Government’s budget would demonstrate that to meet those demands for more money, for health, the economy, education services, capital and so on, can only mean taking money from elsewhere and, as the second largest area of spending in local government, that could only mean social services.
At its very best, amendment 3 is disingenuous. At worst, it is simply the politics of posture, shedding its crocodile tears into the lives of some of the most vulnerable individuals in Wales and those whose lifeline services could only be radically reduced if that party were in a position to implement the policies that it was so insistent upon less than an hour ago.

Gan droi’n gyflym at yr egwyddorion, hoffwn ddweud gair o ddiolch i’r Dirprwy Weinidog am y gwaith y mae wedi ei wneud i adeiladu ar yr hyn sydd wedi’i wneud yng Nghymru. O edrych ar ddogfen ‘Bywydau Bodlon, Cymunedau Cefnogol’, a gyhoeddwyd gan Dr Brian Gibbons, y Gweinidog dros Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol yn ôl yn 2006, gwelwn yr un egwyddorion priodol sy’n parhau i fod yn bwysig yn y cynlluniau y mae’r Dirprwy Weinidog presennol am eu datblygu.

Cyfeiriaf at ddwy ohonynt. Yr egwyddor gyntaf yn ôl y ddogfen oedd y dylai cynghorau lleol barhau i fod yn brif gyfrwng darparu gwasanaethau cymdeithasol. Dywedodd Dr Gibbons yn y rhagymadrodd,
‘Ein sail resymegol dros y ffordd hon o feddwl yw, am resymau atebolrwydd democrataidd, dilyniant o ran gwasanaethau craidd a chysylltiadau â gwasanaethau allweddol eraill megis tai ac addysg a’r agenda cynhwysiant cymdeithasol ehangach, llywodraeth leol yw’r lle priodol ar gyfer gwasanaethau cymdeithasol o hyd.’

Mae’r ail egwyddor yn y ddogfen honno yn cyfeirio at fodel ar gyfer staffio adrannau gwasanaethau cymdeithasol drwy sicrhau bod unigolion yn cael eu hyfforddi yn y sgiliau sy’n angenrheidiol iddynt allu gwneud penderfyniadau cymhleth dan amgylchiadau bregus. I mi, mae’r egwyddorion hynny’n parhau i fod yr un mor bwysig heddiw

[To swiftly turn to the principles, I would like to say a word of thanks to the Deputy Minister for the work that she has done to build on the work that has gone on in Wales. When we look at ‘Fulfilled Lives, Supportive Communities’, which was published by Dr Brian Gibbons, the Minister for Health and Social Services, back in 2006, we see that the same relevant principles continue to be important in the plans developed by the current Deputy Minister.
I will refer to two of them. The first principle according to the document was that local councils should continue to be the main providers of social services. To quote Dr Gibbons in the foreword,

‘Our rationale for this approach is that, for reasons of democratic accountability, core service continuity and links with other key services such as housing and education and the wider social inclusion agenda, local government remains the right place for social services.

The second principle in that document refers to a staffing model for social services department by ensuring that individuals are trained in the necessary skills so that they are able to make complicated decisions in difficult circumstances. To me, those principles continue to be just as important today.]

It is a tribute to the Deputy Minister that the document that she has developed, and which we are debating this afternoon, is based on those core principles, which command the respect of the profession right across Wales.