HEALTH chiefs were given “unreliable” information on the cost of social work services in Argyll and Bute last year, a council accountant has admitted.

A report for the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership’s [HSCP] integration joint board [IJB] states that information given in the 2018/19 financial year was “neither reliable nor relevant”.

An improvement has been made in the reporting of information this year, but the document states that more still needs to be done.

The report is produced by David Forshaw, chief accountant for social work with Argyll and Bute Council.

The HSCP ended 2018/19 with a reported overspend of £3.127 million on social work, which requires to be repaid to the council over the coming years.

READ MORE: Overspend report reveals new fears for Argyll and Bute's public services

Mr Forshaw’s report was considered by the IJB at its meeting at the council’s Lochgilphead headquarters on November 27.

Mr Forshaw said: “The monthly social work financial reports are completed on a cash basis with the main focus of attention being the forecast outturn projection.

“The council’s processes place less emphasis on the year to date variance and this has caused concerns for IJB members.

“[This is] not least due to substantial issues with budget profiling, which significantly distorted the financial reporting during the 2018/19 financial year in relation to the delivery of efficiency savings and payments to care suppliers.

“To improve the reliability of the reporting in 2019/20, a different approach for profiling both of the above budgets has been implemented.

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“Savings have been profiled based on the expected delivery pattern, adjusted for lead times, and payments to suppliers have been profiled based on the pattern of payments from 2018/19.

“The latter naturally takes account of delays in the submission, processing and payments of supplier invoices based on the experience in 2018/19.“However, there remains a risk that activity in 2019/20 will not exactly match that of 2018/19.

“The outcome of these changes has been that the 2019/20 year to date reporting has improved significantly.

“However, members remain concerned at the use of a cash accounting approach, compared to the accrual accounting policy applied by the NHS, and that the accounts of the two partners cannot be easily joined up.”

Mr Forshaw went on to describe a self-billing payment model which would improve reliability and relevance of financial reporting to the IJB.

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It would also remove the need for care providers to submit invoices for services, instead notifying the council of changes to care packages.

Mr Forshaw said: “To deliver the new model, a pilot project will commence in January 2020 to initially scope and develop the processes required to implement self-billing.

“An initial pilot involving a small group of providers will commence in May 2020 and the new processes will roll out to all care providers whose invoices are processed via the CareFirst system during the 2020/21 financial year.

“[This will be] with a target of having all providers operating under self-billing by the end of February 2021.”

Mr Forshaw said in conclusion: “It is recognised that the financial information provided to the IJB in relation to year to date financial performance during 2018/19 did not produce a true and fair view of the financial situation of the social work service, and was neither reliable nor relevant to the needs of the IJB members.

“Substantial improvements have been made in 2019/20 but more needs to be done to further improve the ongoing reliability and relevance of the information and regain the confidence of IJB members.”

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