Departments fear service cuts as chancellor’s sums become clear

    Social services in England may have to turn to the NHS for extra
    resources or face service cuts, experts have warned.

    As part of last month’s spending review, the chancellor announced
    that funding for social services for each of the next three years
    would rise by an average of 2.7 per cent in real terms (news, page
    6, 15 July).

    However, this breaks down into an increase of 5.7 per cent for
    2005-6, in line with 2002 government commitments, followed by two
    years averaging at 1.3 per cent a year after inflation.

    In addition, about one-sixth of the budget for social services
    comes directly from the Department of Health, and could be subject
    to ring-fencing. A spokesperson for the department said decisions
    on this would be made in November.

    These factors, combined with a 2.5 per cent local government
    efficiency drive, threats to cap council tax and reductions in
    Supporting People budgets, are likely to render social services
    departments unable to meet all their commitments.

    Peter Robinson, senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy
    Research think-tank, said the figures revealed a “significant
    slowdown in spending” on social care. Spending on social services
    will fall as a proportion of gross domestic product.

    “Even in the 1990s, when spending overall on the public sector was
    being squeezed, social services spending continued to rise as a
    proportion of GDP,” Robinson said.

    He said it remained to be seen whether primary care trusts would
    use their extra resources to help bail out local authorities rather
    than risk failing to shift resources away from the acute sector
    towards primary care and early intervention.

    Anne Williams, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social
    Services resources committee, said the “modest” increases in years
    two and three would intensify the “very real pressures” in the
    system. But she said social services could work efficiently with
    PCTs by joint commissioning and pooling budgets.

    “The NHS has had bigger increases than this, but social services
    are central to keeping it working effectively,” she added.

    Pam Donnellan, social services executive member for Bournemouth
    Council, said the settlement would “result in service cuts”.

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