In response to initial budget proposals for 2018/19 released yesterday (14 November 2017), the Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group has stressed the importance of protecting Suffolk’s most vulnerable residents, and has questioned the foresight of pursuing reductions in care purchasing at the same time as a major staffing upheaval.
The report on Suffolk County Council’s savings plan for 2018/19 revealed that an alarming amount is due to be cut from the Adult and Community Services budget.
Despite increasing council tax by 4.99% next year, the Council will still be facing a forecast budget gap of £26.85m, and a savings plan has been developed to provide £23.9m worth of savings. The majority of this will come from the Adult Care budget, with a proposed £11m reduction in spending on care purchasing and a £1m saving achieved by cutting the Sheltered Housing Grant.
Adult social care is currently facing immense pressures, including increased demographic demand, changing customer expectations and a stressed care provider market. Despite this, the Council is proposing to reduce the care purchasing budget by £11m. The strategy for achieving this focuses on reducing demand for local authority provided care and changing the way care is provided.
In response, Councillor David Wood said:
“It is incredibly concerning to see that £11m is being cut from the care-purchasing budget, especially considering that they are currently predicting a £3.47m overspend on their 2017/18 budget. This Council must prioritise the care of our most vulnerable residents, and it doesn’t seem like they are at the moment. As a Group, we will be meeting with officers on Friday to discuss this in more detail, and we will be developing our own informed and constructive response to what we consider to be a very damaging proposal.
I am surprised that ACS think they will be able to achieve their goal of supporting vulnerable residents with a reduced budget, when they are also currently undergoing a major staffing upheaval as part of their departmental Phase 3 restructure. I would seriously question whether it is possible for the Council to fulfil its duty to keep the residents of Suffolk safe whilst dealing with both funding and staffing issues.”
Cuts to the Sheltered Housing Grant, designed to provide a saving of £1m, will also impact the most vulnerable elderly residents in our county. Currently this grant is used by sheltered housing providers to give low-level support to elderly residents, such as emergency alarm cords in their homes. The Council acknowledges that not all providers have been able to develop alternative funding plans, and that some residents will therefore suffer from a reduction in support.
Cllr David Wood stated:
“This is an example of picking on a soft target for savings. Without this minimal support, many elderly residents will very quickly flounder and struggle to retain their independence. We have a growing elderly population here in Suffolk, and it does not make sense to remove even the most minimal levels of support.”
The budget and savings plan will be presented to the Scrutiny Committee on 23 November 2017.
The full budget proposals are available here.