SCIE Report 40: Keeping personal budgets personal: learning from the experiences of older people, people with mental health problems and their carers
As local authorities gear up to make personal budgets available to more and more people who use services, they need to find ways to keep the personal budget process 'personal'. With high workloads and resource constraints this is easy to say and very difficult to do. There may, however, be a number of steps which can be taken to avoid personal budgets becoming 'bureaucratised'. Perhaps the first is acknowledging the very central place of the relationship between personal budget holders and their social care practitioner or care co-ordinator. This human factor cannot be underestimated, and so giving staff support, training and time to work with personal budget holders properly is crucial. Personal budget holders and carers do need the freedom to get information, advice and support from other sources, but this should not be at the expense of the continuity which practitioners often provide. As financial pressures bite, there may be a temptation to centralise in order to retain or increase financial control. However, devolving control of as many aspects of the personal budget process as possible to local teams and personal budget holders themselves has the potential to not only improve staff morale but also to hold down administrative costs and provide a more flexible and responsive service for personal budget holders. Lastly, as many of the case study sites had recognised, a successful personal budget process isn't just about what the LA does; it requires a series of effective partnerships to be established between individuals and agencies, and this process inevitably takes time.