Welsh councils want more flexibility in spending extra bed-blocking cash

The revelation that social care services in Wales may overspend
by £14m this financial year will come as no surprise to many
working in its hard-pressed social services.

The deficit is forecast to be three times higher than last year
with the main budgetary pressure coming from children and older
people’s services (news, page 15, 22 January).

Only two of Wales’s 22 councils believe they will underspend in
children’s services this year, according to a new report from the
Association of Directors of Social Services in Wales. It also says
that Welsh social services spending on older people is second only
to that on children.

And in spite of a grant of £19.5m to tackle delayed discharge,
which was announced earlier this month by the Welsh assembly, there
is still deep concern that the pressures may overwhelm services
(news, page 12, 15 January).

The report identifies several areas in children’s services that
have put pressure on budgets.

The past four years have seen a 30 per cent rise in the number of
children in care in Wales with latest figures showing 4,000
children being looked-after by councils. Also specialist placements
for children with complex needs requiring high-cost residential
care and the cost implications of private fostering arrangements
have all contributed to the rise in spending.

Lynda Bransbury, head of social care at the Welsh Local Government
Association, says successive governments have chronically
underfunded social services in Wales.

“The assembly has tried to address this since devolution by
providing more money for children’s services through the Children
First budget,” she says. “However, the extra funding has been used
up almost entirely on meeting the new requirements on local
authorities in relation to vulnerable children. It has not been
sufficient to improve core services.”

Another factor is the demographic changes that will see the 80-plus
population growing by up to a quarter over the next 10 years, says
the report’s author Colin Berg, chairperson of the ADSS Wales
resources committee and director of social and housing services in
Monmouthshire. “Many local authorities will not be able to
underspend on older people,” he says, adding that more than half of
all local authorities project overspending in this area.

In Bridgend, director of social services Tony Garthwaite says that
his authority is experiencing the pressures in children’s services
identified in the report, and would like the flexibility to use
delayed discharge money in the most effective way.

“We are one of the second-best performing authorities in Wales when
it comes to delayed discharge but have a £1m overspend in our
children’s budget. When the council receives its £800,000
share of the grant, Iwill first look at how to support the
children’s budget.”

An assembly spokesperson says the £19.5m was awarded because
of the pressures on social services and the impact delayed
discharge could have on budgets. “We have taken action by making a
significant investment in this area,” she adds.

Pressures on budgets translate into pressure on social care
services and while the £19.5m is welcomed, it is unlikely to
prove a long-term solution to the range of problems local
authorities face.

– Association of Directors of Social Services (Wales) –
Budget Survey for 2003-4
at www.monmouthshire.gov.uk

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