Protecting Vital Funding


Last Wednesday at the LGA I presented a paper to the Community Wellbeing Board about Adult Social Care funding, firstly looking at how we take forward our campaign to have the coming new requirements fully funded, how we protect social care funding in the next parliament and how we influence a future Better Care Fund (BCF); so a couple of small subjects then!

What did come out loud and clear were colleagues insights into the pressures facing their adult social care departments locally. Across the country councils are facing really difficult decisions and trying to protect Children and vulnerable adult social services at the same time as absorbing the re-balancing this country has to make in just how much we, as a nation, spend, no easy task. It was a really good discussion where we also considered the principles and features that should underpin a future BCF, which hopefully will inform negotiations into the next spending review which we all know is coming irrespective of who wins the coming election.

Of course the pooling of Health and Social Care Budgets under Health and Wellbeing Boards is to be welcomed and encourages as a step forward in designing a system in which we make sure our A&E department are only having to dealing with real accidents and emergencies not the failure of the system to cope with an ageing population. Equally we need a system where we stop seeing too many older and disabled people left languishing in hospital beds for too long or consigned to residential care because we lack the capacity to help them live independently for longer.
Even with Health and Wellbeing Boards and increased and accelerated pooling, one of the key difficulties still remains. In real terms the NHS budget are being protected but councils are struggling to protect spending on Adult Social Care set against the backdrop op of the 30% reductions in overall Local Government grant funding that will be seen across the past 5 years and what looks from all parties as if it may well be another 20% cut over the course of the next parliament.
All of these figures are quite general but they give a sense of the scale of this issues before Local Government and of the funding gaps councils are having to address.
That’s why last the meeting concluded that we should reinvigorate the ‘Show us you Care’ campaign with a sustainable funding lobby position with that its core, calling on Government to protect adult social care funding to make it sustainable for the future. This is of course not just essential for social care but for all of the other services that will tip into failure if this problem is not tackled. Equally if cuts are leveled across social care as well as the rest of local government funding then to protect this most vital of front line service, other areas of service delivery will struggle. The next government must make the distinction between general grant funding and that spent of social care, not ring fencing as I don’t think that is the right discussion but a way sustainable way forward for NHS and social care funding for without that, the NHS will fail to cope with our ageing population.

Conviction or just politics

The week before last a new Health and Social Care funding deal was announced for the Greater Manchester Combined Authorities,gmca_small_logo1 and whilst it is built on the city region deal that has been worked on for months, the scope and size of the pooling was a surprise to many of us. i.e. the completely pooling of all of the city region’s Health and Social Care funding under the control of a sort of super-sized Health and Wellbeing Board. Of course as with all things, the ‘devil is in the detail’ but it’s fair to say the deal is clearly not something matured and nurtured by the Department of Health and DCLG but a Treasury and more specifically a George Osborne big bang.

I think I can speak with some knowledge on this process given that in my role at the LGA Community Wellbeing Board where I hold the national Portfolio for Health and Social Care integration, and we are currently grappling with the minutiae of the Better Care Fund’s modest proposals all councils are having to work thought, well that is apart from it seems, the Manchester combined authorities!

So it is to be welcomed rather than the rather negative response from Labour’s Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham who despite speech after speech that he wants to see just such an acceleration of the pooling, came out against it on twitter as it was leaking out. It is a shame he could not be more supportive of the very thing he has been saying he wants to see, but that politics!

Viva 0%, long live 0%

0 percentLast Friday afternoon at Forest Heath District Council’s Full Council meeting we set the council tax rate rise for the coming budget year at 0% this comes on the back of 4 years of 0%, another remarkable achievement in these times of significant government grant cuts. At Forest Heath what is even more striking is that services have been maintained and in my Role as Chairman of the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee I have seen, in many cases services have actually improved over the past 4 years. Even the one Councillor who bizarrely voted against the reorganisation that has facilitated the savings to achieve this, voted in favour of the 0% Council Tax rise, which is equally bizarrely because he as a Parish Council Chairman, he has been behind some of the most massive Precept hikes that council has ever seen with it going up almost a third in the last 2 years. Not sure what people should look for in their Councillor’s but consistency might be a start! Last Friday week I blogged about the County Council’s budget setting and spoke about why I got into Local Politics, Forest Heath has thankfully not had to suffer a Labour/Liberal coalition and so the contrast in council tax rate setting is not as stark, but my principles is just the same, councils should live within their means and stop treating hard pressed families as cash cows. As I said a couple of weeks ago I accept that 0% council tax rises are unstainable in the long term, of course they are, inflation is inflation and cannot be absorbed forever equally we have an ageing population but we are not at that point yet. I think it’s a sort of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ when Councillors start to say council tax must rise and we can’t keep delivering 0%, why not?, costs in most councils are still significantly higher than a business would consider as acceptable overhead, and I am talking overhead not front line, for councils are principally a people business in service delivery. I think, alongside re-organisation, there is still quite a ways to go. At Forest Heath, Conservatives have politically lead this remarkable achievement by sharing services with our neighbour’s St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, instigating a cabinet system of decision making, halving the staff numbers and investing in technology to streamline the business, lots more to do but it’s a start that is saving money and protecting services and keeping the Council tax down. Whoever wins in May, further cuts in local government funding are to be expected and it will be interesting to see those Councils with the political will to make the council live within its means and those councils where officers hold power and council tax goes up! So viva 0%, long live 0% and watch the political group and the emerging local government manifestos as to whom are the true champions of the hard earned money you are obliged to pay in Council Tax.

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