Lib Dems warn that councils are building future bed-blocking fines into next year’s budgets

The health secretary Alan Milburn delivered a “sweet speech wrapped
in a bitter pill”, Liberal Democrats social affairs spokesperson
Paul Burstow told a party meeting.

He warned of a “host of concerns” over plans outlined by Milburn to
introduce legislation so that local authorities could be fined for
delayed discharges.

Burstow added that councils would face a double whammy of charges
as the shortage of care home places would force them to either pay
the fines or face higher care home charges brought about by the
shrinking market. He said many councils were already building
charges for fines into their budgets for next year.

“My idea of partnership is not one partner beating the other with a
stick until they give in,” Burstow said. “We must oppose this
legislation and do our best to move it away from the blunt
instrument as it is being envisaged.”

Delegates also warned that their authorities were facing severe
cash crises which the 6 per cent increase in spending for next year
would do nothing to mitigate. They added that the cost implications
of the government’s promise that all older people would have a
right to direct payments would be too much to bear.

On children’s services, Burstow told the meeting that the Liberal
Democrats would publish a paper this year on services for
looked-after children, and described the situation in parts of the
country as “depressing”.

But he questioned whether the government’s plans to form children’s
trusts were the solution.

“Further structural upheaval is not what we need. It’s more a
hearts and minds job, trying to get existing organisations to work
together more effectively to achieve good outcomes for children,”
he said.

Addressing a separate policy session, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader
Lembit Opik agreed that Milburn should explain the logic for
introducing more radical change to the system rather than making up
the funding shortfall.

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