Progress made with RBWM adult and children's services, meeting hears

Councillors were given an update on improvements made to the Royal Borough’s children’s and adult social care providers at a meeting yesterday (Wednesday).

A virtual adults, children and health overview and scrutiny panel on Wednesday learned how the council had progressed since a review into the two sectors was undertaken by The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) in April 2020.

The aim of the review was to understand whether the existing arrangements, which have been in place since 2017, were still appropriate models to deliver the council’s ‘transformation objectives’ for adult and children’s services, run by Optalis and Achieving for Children (AfC) respectively.

This week’s meeting heard that ‘all actions are either completed or have made substaintial progress’ for completion by September.

Improvements made in relation to AfC include a ‘shared understanding’ of the costs involved in supplying children’s services, and the approval of an AfC business plan and medium-term financial plan, both recently approved by cabinet.

With Optalis, changes made include a new business plan being created through to 2023, while work has started with Wokingham Borough Council – which shares 55 per cent of the service to the Royal Borough’s 45 per cent – to produce a revised shareholder agreement.

Hilary Hall, director of adults, health and housing at the Windsor and Maidenhead council, said that part of this work would look at ‘equalising’ the shares between the two local authorities.

“That was always the intention, there was never any desire for that not to be the case,” Ms Hall told councillors at the meeting.

“We’re looking at how we can make the shareholder agreement [streamlined] because it is quite clunky. We are just looking at an opportunity to streamline those bits that don’t operate as well as they could.”

Earlier in the meeting, representatives from Optalis presented slides to councillors reviewing how its services operated over the past year, during the pandemic.

David Birch, chief executive, said that the company – which is owned by the council – operates more than 20 different care services across the borough, including dementia and respite services, and occupational therapy.

Mr Birch added that Optalis has not lost ‘a single’ customer or member of staff to a COVID infection picked up in its services.

“Some people have said to me ‘you have just been lucky’, but actually it isn’t luck. It is a record that we are very relieved to be able to talk about,” he said.

Councillors were also informed that Optalis’ social work, reablement and therapy teams have helped to discharge 53 per cent more people from local hospitals between January and April compared to the same period last year.

“When you think about the time when the NHS was under its greatest pressure just after the new year, the ability of our in-house teams to create the capacity desperately needed in Wexham and Frimley hospitals, [is] exceptional work.”

Later in the meeting, Michael Murphy, Optalis’ director of statutory services, outlined how the company has plans to make it easier for residents to access its services.

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