Funding cuts lead to tidal wave of job and service losses

Councils throughout England are slashing services as a result of their budgets being cut. Jeremy Dunning, Kirsty McGregor and Molly Garboden examine the impact on four authorities

Councils throughout England are slashing services as a result of their budgets being cut. Jeremy Dunning, Kirsty McGregor and Molly Garboden examine the impact on four authorities

Special report on the council cuts


‘Some things we can’t do as before’

There were stormy scenes last month when Southwark Council voted through a budget that will result in big cuts in children’s services and, in particular, adults’ services.

It is among the worst hit of London’s councils with £34m being cut from government grants, representing an 8.4% cut in its Whitehall funding. When factoring in inflation, the increasing costs of other services and additional funding cuts, the full extent of the required savings is closer to £60m.

The cuts will see £5.7m sliced from children’s social care and safeguarding and £8.4m over the three years from 2011-12 from Southwark’s Supporting People programme, which helps vulnerable people to live independently.

Mental health and learning disability day services are also under threat, facing a review in 2011-12.

In a rare chink of light, 10 day centres were given a temporary reprieve from closure. The council allocated £500,000 for the next six months for the voluntary groups that run the centres to develop new ways of working and secure alternative funding.

Although the initial plan to close the day centres did not go ahead their future is uncertain, leaving service users apprehensive for the future, particularly as it will mean grappling with personalisation concepts.

Sheryl Hines, manager of Black Elderly Group Southwark, which runs one of the centres, admitted users were still wary but had been heartened by the news that the centres might survive.

They will be a different type of service, however: part day service, but with income generated from other sources, such as providing staff training.

Cabinet member for health and adult social care Doran Dixon-Fyle said: “People were telling us to make the cuts less severe where they impact on children, the elderly and the most vulnerable, and this is exactly what we have tried to do with our savings proposals. But there are some things we simply can no longer do in the same way as the past.”


Mental health link with NHS broken

Mental health practitioners have criticised Isle of Wight Council’s proposals to move them from NHS-led community healthcare teams to work alongside local authority social workers.

The council has claimed the restructure would better meet service users’ needs. But Mark Chiverton, secretary of Isle of Wight Unison, said approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) were alarmed by the plan to move them out of specialist healthcare teams, claiming it could harm their working relationships with health colleagues and increase their workload.

“Mental health practitioners are profoundly perturbed by the proposals, because it has taken them years to build up links with health colleagues,” Chiverton said.

“There has been a breaking down of barriers; that could all be undone.”

But Ian Anderson, Isle of Wight’s director for community wellbeing and social care, said social workers would continue to work closely with mental health and other health services on the island. None of the AMHPs would lose their jobs under the current proposals.

Anderson said that under the plan the council was consulting upon, it would adopt a more team-based approach to managing workloads and to better integrate specialist mental health with more generic care management services.

“We are allowing time for these discussions to conclude before issuing a final statement on how we will proceed,” he added.

The council is also facing a storm of protest over planned cuts of more than £5m a year in services for vulnerable people.

Though it plans to boost overall adults’ services spending by £1.9m to £39.3m in 2010-11, cuts of £5.6m are still required. This will, in effect, shift resources from people with lower-level needs to those in more acute need.

Mencap accused the council of failing to adequately consult people with learning disabilities.


‘Anger, frustration and despair’

Blackburn with Darwen Council is one of the authorities worst hit by government cuts.

Government funding has been cut by 25% from £133m in 2010-11 to £100m in 2011-12 as a result of ministers’ decision to slash a number of specific grants that provided significant funds for the council.

The four-year budget strategy, which was due to be approved by the council on Monday night, means the loss of 1,000 posts, including potentially 500 compulsory redundancies.

Adult social care is facing cuts of £6.6m in 2011-12 and £8.1m in 2012-13, with its total budget £41.5m in the latter year. The cuts to children’s services amount to £4.4m in 2011-12 and £6m in 2012-13, leaving a budget of £35.9m in the latter year.

A revamp of commissioning and care management in adult social care could see 30 jobs go to save £1.1m a year. Another £4m will be saved over the next four years from statutory children’s social work by cutting the placements budget for children in care and a renewed emphasis on early intervention.

Unison has said it had worked co-operatively with the council, including proposing all staff accept four days’ holiday without pay each year for the next three years in a bid to save up to £3.3m.

However, staff felt a mixture of “anger, frustration and despair”, said Russell Critchley, communications officer for Unison Blackburn.

“The ones who are left are wondering how they will provide a good level of service. It’s not a happy time,” he said. “It will have a massive effect on the services provided to the people.”


Children’s services will bear the brunt

East Sussex Council is one of the southern counties that fared relatively well under the government’s financial settlement for local government.

Although the council acknowledges that it faces “very serious” financial problems, it is reviewing controversial proposed cuts of £4.1m to its children’s services department.

One area prioritised by the council is disabled children’s short breaks. The council initially proposed a funding reduction in this area of £700,000. This figure has been revised, however, and short breaks funding will now be reduced by only £300,000.

“Our current position is better than previously suggested,” a council spokesman told Community Care. “We’re only taking £300,000 from short breaks now and the majority of that is to be made up of efficiency savings and not filling vacant posts. So we’re hoping there will be little impact to the number and availability of short breaks for families.”

The spokesman said East Sussex reduced the scale of the cuts after councillors acknowledged that children’s services were bearing a significant burden.

Children’s services were hit, in part, as a result of the government’s introduction of an Early Intervention Grant, reducing central funding to specific areas within children’s services budgets.

East Sussex children’s services have also had to account for an increase in referrals and is taking on frontline social workers to handle the pressure.

“We’re going to take on a number of social workers in order to meet the increasing demand and pressure on children’s services,” one council insider said. “Part of the reason we’ve had to take funding away from these other services is because of a £5.1m injection of money to handle this pressure.”

Staff numbers will reduce by 315, according to cabinet papers. Social work posts are understood to be protected.

The council hopes to reduce the need for compulsory redundancies through a voluntary redundancy programme, staff redeployments and not filling posts that become vacant.

Special report on the council cuts

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