End to ring-fencing ‘poses a threat to care budgets’

The devolution of spending powers to local authorities could lead to the raiding of social care budgets by other services, directors warned at the Adass conference last week.

The government’s removal of ring-fencing for £5bn of specific grants, which comes into effect in England this year, is designed to promote greater freedom and flexibility at local level.

But former Adass president Anne Williams, strategic director for community, health and social care at Salford Council, questioned whether the new area-based grants would be used to cross-subsidise other providers to the detriment of social care.

She told John Bolton, director of strategic finance for social care at the Department of Health: “Lots of us are struggling under existing budgets. What is being done at the Department of Health to ensure the outcomes for adult social services will still be delivered?”

In response, Bolton said: “The DH still expects the strategies and policies that the money was allocated for to be delivered.”

He added there was clear government guidance to local authorities reinforcing this message. However, John Dixon, the new president of Adass, told Community Care that this was merely an “intention not a requirement”.

He said directors were concerned that their influence “could be watered down” in financial decisions under the new system, which gives stakeholders such as voluntary organisations a say in how settlements are spent.

Dixon, director of social and caring services at West Sussex Council, added that directors may have to “fight their corner” even harder than usual in discussions with local partners.

Ged Lucas, director for adult services and communities at Stockport Council, said the changes would not affect his budget “because the services still have to be delivered. My colleagues and fellow directors are incredibly supportive in realising the financial pressure adult social services are under.”

Susannah White, director of adult social services at Southwark Council echoed Lucas’ views. “Our working relationship with our stakeholders means our funding is not under threat,” she said.

But White added that some partners outside other local authorities might assume the resources were “new” and could be spent on “other things”.


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