Sun, 07 Jul 2019
Council services should no longer be asked to “pick up the tab” for the rising cost and demand for social care.
The request for Government action came from senior Conservative councillors last month, as West Berkshire Council’s ruling executive outlined how other services had “stepped up to the plate” to help mitigate an overspend.
The council faced an overspend of £3.3m last year, mainly through a forecast £2.9m overspend in adult social care.
As reported by the Newbury Weekly News, £2m of the overspend had been missed off the budget.
Services across the council have been tasked with producing mitigation strategies, either through making savings or income-generating initiatives.
Cuts achieved £1.7m of savings, and a net reserve spend of £731,000 was utilised, while £850,000 was capitalised, meaning the funding was moved to the council’s capital budget.
Discussing the council’s finances at an executive meeting, lead member for finance Jeff Cant (Con, Clay Hill) said that there were always going to be fluctuations as more than half of the council’s budget is devoted to demand-driven services.
“In fact the variance of £3.3m, around two per cent, was not massive in itself, but it’s a significant number,” Mr Cant said.
But he admitted that a contributing factor was that the “original budget was not necessarily put together as robustly as it might have been.”
He said: “Overall, we are fairly happy.
“We have learned some lessons from this and there are things that we will address going forward and, of course, all the time we can continue to be sure that we are on top of all this.”
Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) said that the council had been “quite transparent” about the overspend, but the Government needed to act to help councils.
“We need to make sure there is national solution to this,” she said.
“We have been waiting so patiently for this with regards to adult social care.
“I think for the last 20 years we have not had the response we need.”
Mrs Doherty said she would do everything in her power to call for change, saying “we have got good levels of social care in West Berkshire.
“I’m proud of the levels of social care, but it does come at a cost. It comes at a cost to other services.”
The council directs £37 out of every £100 it spends to adult social care.
Deputy leader Graham Bridgman (Con, Burghfield and Mortimer) said: “We need a national debate about how we fund these social care services.
“We cannot go on expecting the other services within local authorities to pick up the tab for the demand-led social care, which we have to provide, which we not only have a legal duty to provide we have a moral duty to provide.”
Mr Bridgman said that other areas of the council had “stepped up to the plate” to help mitigate the overspend, but staff in adult social care and children’s services bore the brunt.
“Even if they know they need to spend the money, they are concerned about spending the money because of the effect it has on other services of the council,” he said.
Agreeing that a national solution was needed, the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East), said: “My personal view is it’s a health provision. It’s not a local council provision.”
He continued: “We have balanced a budget on paper only and there is risk that it becomes unbalanced throughout the year and therefore you have to rebalance throughout the year, so my concern is, knowing there are a number of saving targets for different departments for this year and there are income generation targets, what is the council doing, in particular, to monitor the saving targets and whether they are being met and the income targets and whether they are being met?”
Mr Cant replied that financial updates would be provided monthly to see how savings would be met.