Spending review leaves social services counting up future cuts

    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
    provided.

    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
    suffer.”

    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
    promising.”

    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
    can.”

    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
    social care.”

    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.”

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