SPIRALLING costs in adult social care could see West Berkshire Council exceed its communities budget by almost £900,000 by the end of this financial year.
According to the council’s Quarter One forecasts, the local authority could be overspent by £891,000 against an adult social care budget of £38.2m.
Executive member for adult social care Rick Jones (Con, Purley-on-Thames) blamed increasingly complex client needs and rising commissioning costs in nursing and residential care for the predicted overspend.
The figure represents the vast amount of the council’s overall forecast overspend for this year of £870,000 against a total net revenue budget of £117.4m with the council expected to make savings elsewhere, including in school transport costs.
However, Mr Jones said he and the council were confident that the sum could be significantly reduced by next spring.
“We have introduced new ways of working in social care which aim to do two things,” he explained.
“Firstly, to improve the experience of people going through the system.
“A by-product of this is it results in less expensive care packages for those people we support.
“For example, we try very hard to keep those who need care at home or in the community as long as possible.
“They find that more comfortable, but also it’s less expensive to support people in the home than it is in residential care.
“Secondly, our commissioning department is being very successful in negotiating the most favourable rates, helping us against the natural inflation of costs.”
According to council figures, the number of adults needing care has stayed relatively constant at just below 1,850 clients each quarter for the last two years.
However, it is the increasing number of those with multiple, complex health conditions which require more specific care, coupled with rising prices in care providers used by the council, which has resulted in the soaring costs for the local authority.
Mr Jones said there was no “silver bullet” to ultimately solve the situation.
He did say, however, that access to new health funding streams such as Continuing Health Care and the Better Care Fund through the NHS are being utilised, while technology to assist in the care of clients, as well as forecasting tools used by the council, are improving.
“One of the things we noticed, unlike services like waste and roads – we can plan that – adult social care is very much a demand-led service,” he said.
“People move in to the area that we are not expecting, people fall over, end up in hospital requiring care and treatment that we hadn’t planned for.
“It’s really difficult to predict, but we are getting better at it.”
Discussing the forecast overspend at a meeting of the council executive last Thursday, leader of the West Berkshire Council, Graham Jones (Con, Lambourn Valley) said: “I will anticipate this situation will change.
“We have got our budgets and delivered our budgets pretty accurately over a number of years.
“We will as an authority be taking remedial action to bring that overall budget within tolerance.”