The Scottish and Welsh governments have sought to protect social care from swingeing cuts in draft budgets that would see councils in the two countries face smaller reductions than counterparts in England.
Council leaders across the two countries hailed the proposed settlements as the best that could have been negotiated at a time when both countries are receiving real terms cuts in their block grants from Westminster of about 11% from 2011-15.
In a proposed one-year settlement, Scottish government revenue funding for councils will fall by 4.4% in real terms. The Welsh government’s proposed three-year settlement would reduce revenue funding by 3.6% in real terms next year and by 7.1% overall from 2011-14.
English councils will face a real terms reduction of 28% from 2011-15, with more than 10% coming in the first year.
Both the Scottish and Welsh governments said they wanted to protect social care more than other areas. In Scotland, departments other than local government are expected to see real terms falls of about 8.3% in funding next year, with the exception of health, which will have a roughly stable budget in real terms.
As part of their settlement, Scottish councils will be expected to maintain free personal care for older people and uprate benefit payments next year. Social care should also be boosted by a £70m change fund allocated to NHS boards in 2011-12 to help shift health and social care services from acute settings into the community.
The settlement was hailed as “the best financial package with the maximum flexibility” under the circumstances by local authority body Cosla.
“Nobody is saying it is brilliant, the money coming to Scotland is down but there is a significant level of ‘protection’ for local government compared to other parts of the public sector,” said president Pat Watters.
In Wales, the 7.1% real terms reduction from 2011-14 is in line with the average for all departments. However, the Welsh government said the settlement was sufficient to ensure that the most vulnerable social care users were protected from service reductions.
The Welsh Local Government Association said the Welsh government had “responded positively to the arguments made by local government particularly in relation to social care”.
“I’m sure that council leaders will agree that in the current climate this outcome is as good as it gets although we will await the distributional impacts on individual councils next week and we must not forget the rising cost of services arising from inflation,” said WLGA leader John Davies.
As widely trailed, the Scottish government also announced a one-year pay freeze for public servants for 2011-12, apart from those earning less than £21,000, who will receive a £250 rise. Though this does not apply to council social workers, Cosla has already proposed a two-year pay freeze for local authority staff, which unions are challenging.
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