We do not accept that local authorities should be required to pass over centrally-provided funds. We believe that local authorities are best-placed to make decisions about funding services that meet the needs of their local communities – including local Healthwatch. We expect local Healthwatch organisations to have sufficient funding to deliver against their local priorities, but we do not believe it is for the Government to dictate what this level should be.
As the Healthwatch network is new, it is not possible at this stage to specify the level of funding that is required to deliver an effective local Healthwatch function. But we do believe it is important that there is transparency about funding for local Healthwatch, and that this principle of transparency is embedded at the outset. We will therefore require each local Healthwatch to set out the amount of funding it receives in its annual report. Healthwatch England will also publish in December the amount of funding each local Healthwatch has received, and we are working with Healthwatch England to see what further steps can be taken to enable transparency.
We agree that local Healthwatch should account to its local authority, as commissioner of Healthwatch, for its use of funding provided and it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place.
We agree that there is a balance to strike between respect for the independence of local Healthwatch organisations and the need to ensure that they are functioning effectively. Local authorities are responsible for holding their local Healthwatch provider to account. Healthwatch England already has the power to alert local authorities to concerns it may have around the performance of a local Healthwatch provider. In addition, as part of its own role in supporting local Healthwatch it has put in place measures to ensure that it has a robust overview of how the network is performing. We will work with Healthwatch England to ensure that, if needed, providers who may be struggling get the right support at the right time.
Healthwatch England has published information on local authority spend on local Healthwatch for 2013/14 and 2014/15. The Department is working with Healthwatch England to ensure ongoing transparency around funding for local Healthwatch.
Local Healthwatch are also required to include in their annual reports, which are now published every summer, the funding that they have received from their commissioning local authority.