Social services departments in England are bracing themselves for
cuts in two years time, following the outcome of the government
spending review last month (news, page 6, 15 July).
The increase in funding allocations for adult social services is
£380m between 2006-7, which is just 43 per cent of the sum the
Local Government Association believes is necessary. The increase in
2007-8 is only 32 per cent of the LGA’s estimate of what should be
Many local authorities are predicting that they will need to raise
council tax by 6.7 per cent to prevent service cuts.
This seems unlikely as the government has signalled that it expects
rises to be kept to low single figures, enforcing this with the
capping of four local authorities with social services
responsibilities this year.
The only chink of light for social services managers is the hope
that primary care trusts will help bail out social services through
partnership arrangements. But while this may occur, it is likely to
be driven more by NHS targets than by social care priorities.
County councils with large numbers of older people and those which
lost out from recent changes to the funding formula look set to
suffer the most.
“I am deeply concerned,” says Caroline Highwood, assistant social
services director (resources) at Kent Council. “The government are
saying it’s an average increase of 2.7 per cent a year, but a lot
of that is in the first year. Years two and three are going to be
even tighter and tougher.
“We are under constant pressure – from providers who need to see
above inflation settlements, and from demographics. But I don’t
know how worried to get until we can see how they will distinguish
between grant and ordinary formula spending share, and what the
extra duties will be.”
Councillor Christine Channon, the leader of Devon Council, warns:
“The services that appear to be at highest risk are those which
affect people most directly. Care for the elderly…looks set to
Some authorities are already trying to protect social services. The
deputy leader of East Sussex Council, councillor Tony Reid says:
“At this early stage we have asked for options to be developed on
the basis that schools, social care, road maintenance and libraries
are largely protected.
“The final outcome will depend on the level of grant we get from
government for next year. At the moment that is not looking very
However, some are contrasting the deal with the generous settlement
given to the NHS. Councillor Rex Toft, leader of Cumbria Council,
says: “Money for health services increases by 7 per cent above
inflation year on year, but growth for adult social care services
will only be 2.7 per cent – leaving an estimated shortfall in
Cumbria of £6m.”
In its response to the spending review, the LGA has raised concerns
that this disparity in income will hamper collaborative working
between the NHS and social services.
Some argue that as the NHS is now in closer partnership with social
services, it will bail them out. Edna Robinson, the NHS
Confederation’s spokesperson on primary care, says: “We are seeing
more pooled budgets and joint appointments of staff – so social
services’ problems are our problems.
“It’s unlikely we will see any direct transfer of resources in any
substantial form but where there are real challenges and potential
reductions in services the NHS will try to help where it
She adds: “Yes, the cost of the GP contract and out-of-hours care
will impact on primary care trusts but maybe that’s a short term
issue and we will see some larger benefits for both health and
However, Dr Michael Dixon, chair of NHS Alliance, points out that
the big rise in NHS funding was given on condition of meeting ever
more stringent targets on waiting times, star ratings and access to
primary care services.
He says:”You will get more co-operation and financial support for
services in areas where social services can help to meet NHS
targets. Anything that does not do this will take a back seat – the
NHS is likely to say it’s your problem.”