Local government’s national representative has advised councils to “throw in the bin” warning letters over care delays, amid fresh warnings that relationships are being fractured by the funding row.

The government wrote this week to council and NHS leaders about progress in reducing delayed transfers this year - for which each area was given a target earlier this year.

For 32 councils which are deemed to have made insufficient progress, the letters renewed the warning that their social care “improved better care fund” allocation for next year could be reduced. This would be subject to a review later this year, and the areas were more likely to be directed by government on how to use the money, the letters from the department of health and of communities and local government said.

Speaking earlier this week, Local Government Association chair Lord Gary Porter advised councils which had received letters with threats to throw them away.

“If it doesn’t say the things you want it to do - i.e. there’s no threat that comes with it - throw it in the bin,” he said, to loud applause, at the National Conference of Adult and Children’s Services Conference in Bournemouth. 

The LGA has strongly opposed the targets and threat of withdrawing funding since they were announced.

Lord Porter also said at the conference that Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, had negotiated that care funding during this financial year would not be withheld from councils.

He said: “The Wednesday meetings [with DCLG ministers] were one of the reasons why the proposed threats of having money taken away from you straight away didn’t happen.

“[Communities secretary Sajid Javid] did play quite a strong card with Jeremy [Hunt] on that to make sure that what happens to the funding is in the future and you don’t lose the money they were proposing to take off you this year.”

Under better care fund rules, NHS England has the right to withhold the NHS share of the BCF in-year, in an area, if the funds’ requirements are not met - and has raised the prospecting of directing it to NHS providers to buy care capacity. It is not clear whether, as Lord Porter, indicated, there has been an agreement not to use this power.

Meanwhile, Care Quality Commission chief inspector of social care Andrea Sutcliffe told delegates at NCASC earlier this week that councils should be more “assertive” as “leaders of local systems” and develop stronger relationships with health partners in order to help them understand the impact of local politics when developing joint strategies.

Asked about her view on whether targets for reducing delayed transfers imposed on councils by NHS England could undermine existing plans developed locally, she said: “I am kind of worried about the impact of some of the debate and dialogue that is happening at the moment and has been evidenced in many of the sessions that we have had at this conference.

“I have never heard so much commentary about either delayed transfers of care or relationships with the NHS than I have done in the last 24 hours. What I am worried about is that there is a heightened level of tension and the potential for relationships to become fractured.”

She earlier said that councils play an important role in bringing partners together but she had sensed a tendency for some delegates to feel inferior to their NHS colleagues.

Ms Sutcliffe added: “There is something for local government around asserting yourselves in that space rather than some of the conversations we were having over that last 24 hours of local government feeling a little bit like little brother or little sister to the health service. With the best will in the world, there was always going to be that tension.”

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