Concern as council reveals £22m cuts

CAMPAIGNERS for the elderly warned last night they faced an unprecedented crisis after social care once again bore the brunt of a £22million package of cuts.

By Danielle Nuttall

CAMPAIGNERS for the elderly warned last night they faced an unprecedented crisis after social care once again bore the brunt of a £22million package of cuts.

Hundreds of vulnerable people could see services cut and care packages reduced in the latest round of cost-saving measures by Suffolk County Council - despite promises “they will not be abandoned”.

The council admitted yesterday it needed to find a further £22m saving from this year's budget - on top of the £24m savings made last year - in order to meet service demand next year, after receiving indications of a poor Government settlement.

It outlined proposals to shave more than £12m off the adult care and community services budget, affecting the elderly and vulnerable, but campaigners declared last night there was already “no meat left on the bone”.

Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said: “I have never been as anxious about elderly people getting the services they need as now.

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“We feel older people have been hit disproportionately this year. Those who use or have observed services this year will say that in some areas, it has been cut back as far as it can possibly go, particularly in home care.

“It's difficult to see what there is to make another cut. It doesn't feel like there is much meat on the bone.

“Older people are the largest users of social care and as a society we should take care of those who are older and frailer. This will all hit in the same place.”

The council's savings package will affect all areas of service and is likely to result in 135 full-time posts being cut, although bosses hope to keep redundancies to a minimum.

In addition to the £12.2m it aims to save in social care, it will also aim to reduce the children, schools and young people's services budget by £4.4m, roads and transport by £3.5m, £500,000 from public protection, £274,000 from environment and waste and £953,600 from resources, finance and performance.

The council said it is facing cost increases because of a greater demand for services, particularly among Suffolk's increasing elderly population and increasing levels of dependency.

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said it had been left in the same position as this year because of a huge shortfall in Government funding - but that was last night contested by the Department for the Communities and Local Government.

“There is not a golden pot of money somewhere we can dip into. We, like everybody else, have to cut the cloth according to our means,” Mr Pembroke said.

“The top priority are the most vulnerable in our community, whether the elderly or children. Having said that, we have to manage with the resources the Government has given us and the resources are not enough.

“In order to protect the most vulnerable in our community, we have to remodel the way we deliver. But we have a statutory duty of care to the most vulnerable. Nobody is going to be abandoned.”

But a spokesman for the Department for the Communities and Local Government said it had moved to “multi-year settlements” so the council would have known its figures for 2007/08 last December, which, he added, would have allowed it to plan ahead.

He also revealed that the increase in Suffolk's Government funding was 5.3%, which made it one of the higher shire counties - Essex's was just 2.7%.

“Maybe they should stop blaming Government. They are getting a very good settlement for 07/08 which enables them to provide excellent services and keep council tax increases down,” the spokesman said.

Under the council's savings package, individuals in receipt of care face being reassessed to see whether they need it.

Mr Pembroke said: “I don't want people to think we are just going to cut them off. Nobody is going to be abandoned. But they may not get the same level of services in detail as they were hitherto used to.”

But Ms Savage said the uncertainly would only add to the anxiety many elderly people had already suffered this year.

“People are still waiting with a huge amount of anxiety for the county council's decision in terms of its day care review, happening at the moment,” she said.

“It's going to worry people enormously, particularly people who have already been reassessed this year and have had services removed.

She added: “If people's services are cut because they are not receiving the support, they either have a crisis where they fall or they get very depressed.

“When people have a crisis that necessitates them going into hospital, all of those services are more expensive. Every crisis is a more expensive way to manage people.”

Unions also reacted angrily to the proposed cuts last night.

A joint statement on behalf of a number of unions, including Unison, University and Colleges Union, Fire Brigades Union and the National Union of Teachers said: “SCC states that its aim is to support more vulnerable people to remain living independently at home and maintain quality services. “However, at the same time it is targeting the very services and staff that support this aim. This will increase the risk of vulnerable older people and their carers being less supported and more isolated within their own homes.

“The Unions pledge to fight these callous cuts in these valued services and the threats of redundancies and reduced terms and conditions of service to these dedicated staff.”

“The council's scrutiny committees are set to discuss budget recommendations throughout November before the cabinet makes its final recommendations to full council on February 6.

The budget - and the level of council tax - will be set at a full council meeting on February 22.

The council said it is too early to detail specific job losses.

Jane Storey, portfolio holder for resources, finance and performance, said the council had already met with unions and briefed them on the impact of the budget on staff.

She said out of 112 job posts identified this year in savings plans, only 22 had resulted in redundancies.

“That was working with the unions, vacancy monitoring and redeploying and retraining staff. We are hopeful we will see something similar,” she added.

Suffolk County Council's proposed savings 2007/08

Adult care and community services £12.2m

Main savings: £2.1m - reduction in care budget across all customer groups for county council services and those bought in by other organisations. The council admits “levels of service to some people will have to be reduced during the year” to manage within budgets.

£3.9m - savings to services supporting adults living at home.

Children, schools and young people's services £4.4m

Main savings: £778,000 - reducing staff numbers, managing staff vacancies, finding other ways to meet the costs of pay awards, increasing the use of term time only contracts for staff working in schools.

£482,000 - reducing costs through less spending on conferences, training, printing, photocopying, refreshments and travel.

Roads and transport £3.5m

Main savings: £1.8m - reduce amount of money spent on maintaining roads, pavements and other transport assets.

£859,000 - better buying of services, with possibility of some cuts in services.

Public protection £500,000

Main savings: £100,000 - Reduce support staff costs from the fire and rescue service following a review of resource management in public protection directorate, including four full-time posts.

£46,000 - Reduce administration management in Trading Standards.

Environment, waste and economic development £274,000

Main savings: £70,000 stopping paint collection at Foxhall Household Waste Recycling Centre

£21,000 - increasing income by reviewing car park charges at country parks and charging councils for archaeological planning service.

Resources, finance and performances scrutiny committee £953,600

Main savings: £280,500 - reducing premises and facilities management costs through energy conservation, reducing equipment, postage costs and closing buildings no longer needed.

£97,000 - savings in workforce costs, managing vacancies.

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