By Clare Neill, cabinet member for adult social care at Derbyshire council
For 11 years, I focused on my health service career. It was always my intention to pursue a political career. Politics determines every aspect of our daily lives and I want to influence that; to improve the local community in which I live and the services that the public sector provides. But, I also wanted to gain some real life experience first and a set of skills and experiences that would make me a better politician when I eventually took the plunge.
Last May, I was elected to Derbyshire County Council and became the cabinet member for adult social care. It’s the department with the biggest budget and, arguably, the most challenges. It also gives me the opportunity to shape and improve the services provided by the council and our partners.
But, I hadn’t anticipated the scale of the cuts being imposed by government. In 2010, the council’s budget was £600m. By 2018, if current policies continue, the budget will be £377m.
The public sector supports those who can not support themselves; which is especially true of my department. This means that vulnerable people are going to be made more so by the decisions I am being forced to make by this government.
Over the next three to four years I have to cut around £65m from an adult social care budget of £205m.
The amount of money that I am going to lose is greater than our discretionary spend and so the cuts will impact on the level at which we can provide statutory services; services that keep people safe and well.
Having put it off for as long as I could, we are now out to consultation on a number of proposals that will reduce council costs in the short-term; increasing care thresholds to substantial, increasing the share of disability benefits we take to pay for care, introducing charges for transport and decommissioning some housing related support services.
I am acutely aware of the impact that this is going to have on individuals and their carers and how hard it is going to be for our staff to ration care. I also know that the cuts I make will lead to an increase in demand for other agencies and the voluntary and community sector.
As a result, I am spending all of my time trying to find ways of mitigating the impact on the people of Derbyshire. I can only do this with the support of my staff and partners in the NHS, voluntary and community sector and police and fire services. I am also reliant on the public telling me of their experiences and letting me know of the ways in which the council can save money. I am also interested in where the NHS and local authority duplicate activities.
I am convinced there is still money that can be saved by improving our processes and am working on plans to engage staff in developing a set of alternatives to the cuts that are in the pipeline for later this year and future years. I am also working closely with both providers and commissioners within health on the integration agenda.
Public health budgets have been in the news a lot lately, and how councils are using them to offset the cuts they have to make. I have secured £650,000 from public health for the 2014-15 year which is supporting voluntary sector organisations that provide things like substance misuse services, befriending and exercise classes. All these are included in the public health outcomes framework. Without this money, I would also be consulting on cutting grants to the sector, which will have a detrimental impact on people’s health and well-being.
I have also secured over £500,000 to support housing related support providers delivering homelessness services, services to those fleeing domestic abuse and at risk of offending. And almost the same amount from business rates.
So, even in these dire times, I am trying to make a difference.
The only chance of any kind of success is by working with staff, the voluntary and community sector and public sector partners.
My greatest fear is that even this won’t be enough to protect the most vulnerable people from the very worst of government policy.