How senior managers think the recession will affect social services

Council leaders, LGA and the YJB’s chief reveal where pressure is building and how they plan to cope with impending cuts

Local Government Association 

Shireen Ritchie, chair of Children and Young People Board, LGA

The thing to understand is that councils have been asked to make efficiency savings for a while now, so we have quite a good track record of saving money without hurting frontline services.

We just need to make sure that there’s enough trust in local authorities to do that. One of the key things we would argue for is the freedom to make our own decisions in response to our communities.

Individual local authorities will have to establish their own priorities as the pressure will vary according to the make-up of their communities. We know the recession will put extra strains on families and complex family situations, which is bound to lead to an increased demand on services, but the actual nature of that demand will vary from one authority to another.

The strain on budgets isn’t just coming from the recession though. We all know very well the pressures on child protection at the moment and in addition to that we’ve got Lord Laming’s recommendations and the work being done by the Social Work Task Force, both of which will have an impact on resources.

Monmouth Council

Brian Hood, cabinet member for adult social services, housing, health and well-being

The recession hasn’t noticeably increased demand. The area that we did anticipate that would cause us problems was homelessness, but that hasn’t happened. We do a lot of homelessness preventive work. The number of homeless people is half what it was last year.

We’ve put in a lot of work meeting people before they are made homeless, talking to landlords and finding ways around problems and we’ve got a mortgage rescue scheme as well.

We are striving to protect frontline services which may be delivered in different ways to drive efficiencies. We are meeting with users and carers of learning disabilities respite care services to look at how we can deliver their service at the same level but in a different way.

I’m quite confident we will manage 2010-11 but it will become harder after that because we have a £3m gap in 2010-11, a £5m gap 2011-12 and up to a £15m gap in 2013-14. If we resolve this year’s £3m gap it will make next year’s £2m.

Edinburgh Council

Paul Edie, convenor for health, social care and housing

Managing the ever-increasing demand for our services with budgetary pressures is an enormous challenge. Calls for social care help are up by 30% in the first six months of the year compared with two years ago, while this October saw a 69% increase in welfare rights enquiries compared with the previous year.

We have had council tax freezes in the past two years as part of a negotiated settlement with the Scottish government. It is still unclear as to whether this will be the case this year.

We are facing difficult challenges with the need to find a projected £90m of savings across the council over the next three years. You can’t manage that by merely cutting back on biscuits. We also have additional statutory responsibilities such as free personal care for older people that limit our room for manoeuvre.

But times of economic turmoil are times for innovators. By redesigning services using a reablement model that helps people regain independence, investing heavily in telecare and prevention and engaging with our providers to achieve best value, we will minimise the impact on our service users.

Birmingham Council

Sue Anderson, cabinet member for adults and communities

If the recession continues, we anticipate increased take-up of preventive services in areas such as mental health, as well as pressure on budgets to fund care home places, as people’s private resources are consumed faster and house sales are delayed.

One area hit by the recession is the plan to close our original 29 older people’s homes and replace them with 10 new state-of-the-art care centres. Four have now been built but the programme is on hold while it is decided whether the remaining six will be needed as more people choose to stay in their own homes for longer. The programme was to be financed, in part, by the sale of the land but falling land prices mean that this is no longer practical.

We are one of the pilot areas for Total Place (an initiative to identify all the resources spent in an area by public bodies to improve efficiency). We are linking this to the pilot of our joint commissioning strategy with our partners in health, looking at how we make the public money that we have available stretch as far as possible.

We are also seeing evidence of providers planning to do more with less money.

John Drew, chief executive

Youth Justice Board

We are entering a period where there will be great pressure on public spending. It is reasonable to expect that all budgets will face cuts over the next couple of years. But, I believe there is a strong case to exempt some youth justice spending from this – particularly prevention and early intervention – where a pound spent now could save much more in the years to come.

Equally, there is a very strong economic case for investing in services for young people leaving custody; good resettlement plans and services will reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

We have seen significant falls in numbers of first-time offenders, frequency of reoffending, and numbers of children and young people in custody. This is good news for children and young people who offend and good news for local communities.

Walsall Council

Rachel Walker, cabinet member for children’s services

The demand for children’s services has increased but this is due not only to the recession but to greater public awareness and high profile cases that have been in the media.

We are regularly in discussion with all of our providers about cost and quality and examine ways of operating more effectively. This includes commissioning services with neighbouring authorities and integrating services with partner agencies. Like all councils we have to make difficult budget decisions, but child protection services remain a high priority.

Recruitment into this challenging, yet rewarding, field is an added pressure that we are continuing to address.

North Lincs Council

Pauline Carlile, cabinet member for adult services

In North Lincolnshire we have been lucky not to have experienced any increased demand as a result of the recession as yet. Where we have noticed an effect however is in the area of paying for care homes. Many of our residents in council-provided care home accommodation are selling their homes to meet their part of the charges but due to the downturn in the housing market this is taking a long time.

So far we have been allowing residents to defer payments while they wait for a sale. We’ve been absorbing the deficit by using other council budgets.

We are not considering any cuts to services and hope to be able to manage our finances within the limits allowed by central government in the coming year, as we have done in the past. We would, of course, always welcome more money.

Croydon Council

Jon Rouse, chief executive

One of the main things we’re doing to avoid cuts in children’s services is to eradicate overlap and duplication.

That means not finding ourselves in work silos – we know we work more efficiently if we work together. So joining up services is a focus for us. We’re also looking at a lot of process redesign work. We’re hoping to use technology to get more streamlined systems in place so that people are getting the same quality of service while it’s costing us less.

While we haven’t had to make cuts yet – and we’re doing out utmost to avoid doing so – we would look to make them in discretionary services rather than statutory ones.

Croydon is also a Total Place pilot area, an initiative that aims to improve efficiency.

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