Editorial Comment: Savings go only so far

When it comes to social care, local authorities are becoming more efficient and productive.

Community Care’s exclusive research reveals some positive findings with most service directors convinced they will deliver 3 per cent annual efficiency savings between 2008 and 2011 – the next spending review period. This will create opportunities to plough money back into front-line services.

To date, the most significant efficiency gains have been delivered through refining back office processes, such as HR and finance. Savings have also been achieved through squeezing provider fees, although opportunities are diminishing as tighter margins come into play.

In future, the real efficiencies are going to come from improvements to joint working across the public sector, more strategic and regional commissioning and the introduction of more flexible, innovative services. 

This is, of course, going to have to be delivered against a backdrop of increasing demand, rising user expectations and escalating costs. It is going to necessitate a step change in the way many departments analyse their markets and plan their services.

Even with continued efficiency and productivity progress, senior figures warn that additional funding is going to be needed if new preventive services are to be developed alongside their existing acute responsibilities. Without this transitional funding, it’s going to be impossible to deliver many of the government’s policy aspirations or reverse tightening eligibility criteria.

As this week’s special coverage of the comprehensive spending review shows, the sector is starting to brace itself for a “no growth” settlement later this year.

Public spending increases are set to slow considerably to 2011 and the competing demands of health, education and defence will continue to dominate.

Despite all the lobbying, social care teams are probably going to have to make their existing resources go further. It begs the question – when will social care get its fair share of the funding pie? Inevitably, the answer lies with the public. As service users and their carers grow in number and they become more demanding consumers that eventuality becomes more likely.

It isn’t going to happen before 2011, but it might happen soon after it.

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