By Katherine Purvis
Northamptonshire Adult Social Services (NASS) has said the release of £1.7 million from earmarked reserves to help pay for adult social care will have “little impact given the size of our challenge” .
The grant, announced in the Local Government Finance Settlement, will be used to mitigate financial challenges and growth pressures, according to the council’s budget for 2018/19.
The troubled council has been forced to make almost £40 million in budget cuts after admitting “severe” financial challenges” and issuing a section 114 notice on 2 February. The notice, which will continue into the new financial year, banned spending on all services except those that meet its statutory obligations to safeguard vulnerable people.
As yet, the council has not been able to specify what these essential services are, or where the £220 million adult social care budget will be spent.
“Nobody’s issued a section notice on this scale and to this extent before, so nobody really knows what it means to be only essential,” Penny Smith, branch secretary of Unison Northamptonshire told Community Care. “It’s such unknown territory and I don’t think we’ll have a clearer picture until the ‘best value’ inspector releases his report [due on 16 March]. Everyone’s waiting on that.”
Despite budget overspends in 2017/18 and 2016/2017, Anna Earnshaw, the council’s director of adult social care, warned on Tuesday that the service was “severely underfunded” and on the “edge of being unsafe” with 2,000 unassigned cases.
The council explained that while adult social care has the largest expenditure of all Northampton’s services, it is one of the lowest funded of any county council and has one of the lowest staff bases. Meanwhile, its over 65’s population is growing faster than any other county and it expects the number to rise by 28% by 2024.
In its 2018/19 business plan, Northamptonshire Adult Social Services (NASS) proposed to bring Olympus Care – the council’s adult social care limited company – and First for Wellbeing – a holistic wellbeing social enterprise set up by the council, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Northampton – back in house to save money and simplify the delivery model.
“We cannot continue to meet rising demand and the costs of care created by these conditions within our existing budgets. There is no short term fix so we need to make sustained long term change where we meet our duties, protect the most vulnerable and deliver better outcomes but all within our limited resources,” the newly-created Adults, Communities and Wellbeing Directorate said in its plan.
To balance the budget, the council has raised council tax by 5.98% – the highest increase possible without a referendum and which includes the 3% adult social care precept. It has also announced the removal of all bus subsidies from mid-July, leading to concerns from the public and Martin Griffiths, Conservative councillor for Irchester, that older residents would be cut off.
“I believe it’s time to apologise to the elderly people in our community who will be isolated,” he said at a full council meeting on Wednesday. “… It’s time to apologise for the lack of foresight.”
In addition, a proposed 2% pay rise for all staff has been abandoned, prompting fears that more social workers will leave the authority.
“They won’t keep staff in any department if they don’t pay people properly.. The county shares borders with seven others, so people walk with their feet,” said Smith.
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