Commissioning support services
The government proposed that Tier 1 authorities should have responsibility for commissioning services in line with the local needs assessment and strategy. In recognition that local expertise lies within both Tier 1 and Tier 2 authorities, the government also proposed that decisions should be made in partnership with Tier 2 authorities. Respondents generally agreed with the proposal, but some raised concerns that lines of accountability could become “...lost and confusing” (MHCLG, 2019a, p. 31) and that government should make clear where overall responsibility lies.
In response, the government proposes that Tier 1 authorities will act as convener and chair of the local partnership boards, but with a requirement that they pay due regard to the strategy and working with Tier 2 authorities, in recognition of their local expertise. In addition, it will be open to Tier 1 authorities to delegate commissioning decisions to Tier 2 authorities - where this is mutually agreed. The statutory guidance will make clear that where commissioning decisions are so delegated, adequate funding to fulfil the agreed requirements must also be forthcoming. Overall responsibility for fulfilling the duty will remain at Tier 1. Tier 2 authorities will be under a duty to provide Tier 1 authorities with any relevant data they have that will help the Tier 1 authority fulfil its statutory duty. Whilst it is acknowledged that specialist domestic abuse service providers have a key role to play on partnership boards, the government also states that it would be inappropriate for them to be present when commissioning decisions are made; this will ensure that such decisions are made on an open, fair and transparent basis.
Reporting on outcomes
To support the standardised needs assessment, the government also proposed standardised reporting to enforce stronger accountability on local authorities. The suggested themes for this reporting were
- • Evidence of an adequate needs assessment
- • Evidence of commissioning decisions being informed by needs assessments
- • Impact of decisions locally
- • Evidence of adequate provision for all victims
MHCLG (2019a, p. 33)
Most respondents to the consultation agreed with both the proposal for a standardised needs assessment and the suggested themes. However, many raised the need to ensure transparency in reporting and that the needs of service users are represented. Likewise, there were suggestions that service outcomes and the voice of service users inform the reporting themes.
The government has therefore committed to developing a standardised reporting format, stating that this will help central government understand what is happening locally, what the challenges are, where funding is being best used, good practice and hold authorities accountable where the needs of people experiencing abuse are not being met. The government acknowledges the need to further develop the reporting themes and explore the need for additional themes to ensure that the views and experiences of service users are considered. Central government will also use this information to build up a national picture of service provision, identify areas they may require further support, identify best practice and ensure value for money at national level. Summary data will be presented to a national steering group that will monitor and evaluate progress.
The government proposes to create a ministerial National Steering Group to oversee and evaluate delivery of the new duty. Membership of the group might include representatives from local government, the police, health bodies and specialist domestic abuse services. Other parts of government would also be represented to ensure a joined-up approach, including the domestic abuse commissioner.
Most respondents agreed with the role and remit suggested for the steering group. However, a significant number of responses indicated that whilst they were largely happy with the role and remit, they thought that the steering group needed greater powers in order to be effective. There was also wide agreement with the proposed membership of the group but with many respondents calling for membership to be widened to include the Ministry of Justice; Police; and departments of Education, and Health and Social Care to ensure a truly cross-governmental approach.
In response, the government has committed to develop and publish ‘terms of reference’ to clarify the role and remit of the steering group. This will include setting out the desired delivery outcomes and expectation about which bodies will form the group. The government also acknowledges the view that other government departments should be represented and commits to ensuring that the membership of the group ensures cross-departmental working - including working with the domestic abuse commissioner and Home Office to define their roles.
The group will be expected to carry out the following tasks:
- • Review the operation of local needs assessments and provision of ‘domestic abuse safe accommodation’ across the country (England)
- • Consider, specifically, services for people who share one of more protected characteristics and where these serve a national rather than local need
- • Monitor deliver of progress by comparing data and outcomes year-on-year
- • Consider where monitoring information indicates that an area(s) needs support in order to deliver the duty
- • Consider where changes to the statutory guidance are necessary
- • Publish an annual report summarising progress across the country, sharing best practice and setting service standards