Scottish councils fear for preventive services in wake of spending round

Social work leaders in Scotland claim some services will be cut or rationed and preventive work put at risk because of a shortage in funding.

The warning came after the Scottish executive announced it would give Scotland’s councils an extra 800m over the next two years. Councils will receive an overall budget increase of 3.2 per cent in 2006-7 and 2.3 per cent more in 2007-8, although allocations vary widely by authority.

But the money disappointed the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and raised fears that many councils, prevented by ministers from raising extra funds by substantially increasing council tax rates, would be forced to make cuts to front-line services.

Colin Mackenzie, president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said: “Councils will allocate money according to local priorities, but my concern is [there will be] further rationing of services across Scotland and waiting times for these will go up. The bit that may lose out is any form of preventive services.”

Mackenzie said the executive had failed to recognise the extra demands placed on social work by an ageing population and increasing costs of protecting vulnerable children.

“The care needs of older people are becoming more complex as they live longer, while the number of children with care and protection needs and challenging behaviour is rising. The cost of residential care has also doubled in the past four years,” he added.

Alan McKeown, Cosla’s health and social care policy manager, said a debate was needed on the eligibility criteria used to assess who received services.

“As budgets get tighter councils may have to redefine who are most in need and focus resources on them. Those that are receiving free services at the moment may not [in the future],” he added.

The major cities appear to have fared the worst in the settlement. Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen will receive an average increase of less than 2 per cent over two years. But, in contrast,
Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire and Orkney will get more than 5 per cent in 2006-7.

Scotland’s finance and public service reform minister Tom McCabe said further funding could be made available for 2007-8 if councils met efficiency targets.

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