The reality of being a councillor tasked with saving £65m from your social care budget

Clare Neill, Derbyshire’s cabinet member for adult social care, explains why she has to cut 30% from her budget in coming years

Matlock County Hall: Derbyshire council's headquarters

By Clare Neill, cabinet member for adult social care at Derbyshire council

Clare NeillI became active in politics because I wanted to make a difference. As an Oxfam employee, I realised how difficult changing the world was going to be and I went to work for the NHS.

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.

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2 Responses to The reality of being a councillor tasked with saving £65m from your social care budget

  1. christina evans (@christinaevan11) April 9, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    Since this govt have got in, I have lost my social care budget. I was classed as substantial,my eligibility criteria has not changed but the local authoritiy’s has to strict. My husband cares for me, and our two disabled daughters. At one time,had yellow folder,and had care assessments. Our doctor has tried to get the local authority to send out,that was 6 months ago. Now I know no one is coming, my husband is tired and ill if he gets no help. It helped having a budget to employ a carer, it is gone. Our daughters have bleeding problems,epilepsy,we are trying to hold it together,my son helps his dad with us. Don’t blame local authority, blame the government. They should be held to account.

  2. D Kent April 14, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Christina, what are childrens services doing to support your family and your children, as an ex-out of hours worker I am unfortunatley only too aware of the pressures that a family can be put under when there is inappropriate support going in to a family, are there any contingency plans in place should anything happen to your husband, i.e. he breaks his arm or similar, not that I am wishing that on him of course, but your authority should be made fully aware that your husband is not just caring for yourself, but also 3 children, 2 of whom are also disabled, your son should also be receiving support as a young carer. I hope things get better for your family, if you do not get what you need just keep contacting them, either for your children or yourselves, failing that contact your MP.