Suffolk: County council looks to save on care home costs as it slices £25m from budget
12:54 16 November 2012
SUFFOLK County Council is preparing to cut its budget by a further £25 million next year, the EADT can reveal.
And further cuts are expected over the next two years as a further £64 million budget gap opens.
The details are published in the county’s draft budget which is to be discussed by its scrutiny committee on November 26.
The proposed cuts include £7 million from the adult care budget – partly from encouraging more people to spend longer living independently at home.
Among other reductions are £2.5 million from targeting resources for childrens services better and £200,000 by reducing the number of uniformed firefighters.
The county is also expecting to cut £300,000 from its grant to the Industrial and Provident Society that runs Suffolk library services.
The county is on target to reduce its adult care services budget by £12 million during the current financial year which runs until the end of March.
Cabinet member with responsibility for the service Colin Noble said surveys showed that people wanted to live in their own homes for as long as possible – and this remained the most cost-effective way of providing care for older people.
He said: “There are two issues with allowing people to spend longer in their own homes – as they tell us they want.
“There is the need to provide care, like helping them to get up and get their meals – but that is not about loneliness.
“The loneliness issue is about working with communities to provide activities that engage them, everything from luncheon clubs to activities that they are interested in.”
He said with this kind of support, there should be more money to go around for social care.
However Daphne Savage from Age UK Suffolk warned that putting in support networks could not be done on the cheap.
And with the baby boomer generation approaching old age, there were likely to be many more very old people with major needs.
She said: “We know there pressures on the budget, but over the next 10 or 20 years the number of older people will go up dramatically and that is going to cause serious problems for the authorities.”
County deputy leader Jane Storey is responsible for the budget. She warned that Suffolk had been efficient for many years – and it had reached the stage where there was little fat left to cut.
“So far the people who use our services have not noticed much difference, but as it takes longer to administer changes they will start to see where things are getting more difficult.”
If the reduction in central government support continued, she warned that eventually the county would have to tell Whitehall it would struggle to maintain its statutory duties.
“This (budget reductions) is likely to continue as long as the economy remains in such a difficult position,” she added.
The number of non-school staff employed by the county council has fallen from 9,997 in April 2009 to an estimated 4,834 by April next year.
Some have transfered to other bodies like the libraries IPS or to Eastern Facilities Management which now maintains council buildings.
But there have been a substantial number of jobs that have been lost as the county aims to become more efficient.
Among the changes are a reduction in the number of uniformed full-time fire staff.
This aims to cut the number of uniformed staff over a four-year period from 275 to 209. At present the number stands at 223. The reduction is being managed by “natural wastage” with no compulsory redundancy.
Opposition leader David Wood warned that the vulnerable would be hit again by the cuts.
He said: “It’s cuts, cuts, cuts yet again. They have been taking the government’s bribe for the last few years (the bonus for maintaining a zero per cent council tax rise) but sooner or later they are going to have to increase the tax rate.
“Looking back it’s a good job the rate did rise all those years ago because we would have been in a real mess if we had not had a reasonable tax base – but it is now being seriously eroded.
The budget proposals are due to be formally discussed by the county’s cabinet at the end of January and will be debated by the full council on Valentine’s Day next year – February 14. There could be little love lost at that session!