It's an annual event where social services directors come together with for-profit and voluntary sector providers of social care. The strength of the voluntary sector presence at the conference was palpable - as was the high regard it is held in.
Last week I wrote a rather grumpy piece about the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement for social care services and the impact it would have on voluntary organisations that deliver publicly funded services. Did the conference - in particular, the address by health secretary Alan Johnson - change my mind? Well, yes and no.
Continuing to be grumpy, what was very obvious was that, as a result of the CSR, there is now an increasing sense of an unlikely alliance building between local government commissioners and voluntary sector providers of these services. This is a logical outcome, I suppose, of current public spending finances. But it is a relatively new development. In the past, voluntary organisations were bashing local government about full cost recovery. Now there is a common cause between them over funding.
Feeling slightly less grumpy, the announcement of a green paper on reform of the funding and delivery of social care services is promising. It provides a timely opportunity to debate the balance of responsibility between individuals and the state, as well as the role of voluntary organisations in reaching a new settlement on social service delivery.
Before this green paper is published, probably next spring, there will be a consultation with key stakeholders. The third sector is acknowledged as one of them. We must resist the temptation to be grumpy and seize this opportunity to get the very best settlement for beneficiaries who use the vast range of social care services. It is essential that we actively engage them in this debate and do not speak for them. Their voices, as the users of social care services, must be heard by Alan Johnson. This will be the real test of our worth.
- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: email@example.com.