Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 7

Health secretary Alan Milburn has pledged to transfer£300m for the next three years from the NHS to social services to enable local authorities 'to gain rather than lose' from controversial plans to fine them for bed-blocking.

Mr Milburn made his promise during the second reading of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges) Bill in the Commons last week. He told MPs: 'I have decided, for each of the next three years, to transfer an extra£100m, on top of the resources already made available, from the NHS budget to social services for each full year in which the scheme operates.

'I am doing so in order to provide a positive incentive to ensure that the regime is not punitive and to make the system work.'

He insisted: 'My intention is not to punish local government but to pursue a real and sustained reduction in delayed discharge. There can now be no excuse for social services not to fulfil their responsibilities to older people.'

But the sweetener failed to silence critics from the Labour backbenches, or opposition from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The Association of Directors of Social Services welcomed Mr Milburn's money transfer.

President David Behan said it showed that the health secretary 'has been prepared to listen to the wide range of voices urging him to modify the original proposals'.

But the Local Government Association restated its opposition, saying the move was 'clearly in response to growing opposition' to the bill.

The bill is now set for a speedy move to the Commons committee stage, which is due to be completed by 12 December.