ECC leader criticises grant cash

THE leader of Essex County Council last night accused the Government of denying the county the money it needs to look after its elderly as the annual grant for the authority was revealed.

By Annie Davidson

THE leader of Essex County Council last night accused the Government of denying the county the money it needs to look after its elderly as the annual grant for the authority was revealed.

Lord Hanningfield, who spoke out after learning Essex would receive just a 2.7% increase in its Whitehall grant for 2007-8, compared to a national average of 4.9%, warned of a “real crisis” in elderly care.

He said the county had already suffered with a low increase for the last financial year and had been forced to fund a shortfall of £30 million needed for elderly people's care.

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“Ever growing numbers of elderly with ever greater complexity of cases, combined with a government grant that has failed to match that spent on other key services, means that services for the elderly are now teetering on the brink,” he said.

“Our priority has always been to support people to make sure they can live independently for longer, and with dignity. But this requires funding.

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“We also have a settlement that provides increased funding for schools, which is needed and welcomed, but in some areas of Essex we are faced with closing schools due to falling numbers.

“Yet critically, at the other end of the demographic scale, where we have the increasing population, we cannot provide the services required as lack of funding is restricting us.

“The county council is in the age-old situation of having to provide the range and quality of services expected by Essex residents, but without financial acknowledgement of this.

“It is unfair to expect council tax payers, many of whom are the elderly, to carry the burden of the increased pressures.”

Lord Hanningfield added: “The 2.7% from the Government makes the situation totally unsustainable.

“There is a massive growth in Essex and the whole of the eastern region of elderly people. They come here to retire and they are living longer.

“We are looking after 22,000 elderly people every day. We have got to get the Government to recognise the problem.”

Lord Hanningfield said the county council wanted to improve services rather than cut them but predicted areas such as libraries and roads could be severely affected.

He warned of a “national crisis” and said authorities in a similar dilemma had been forced to cut the amount of help given to the less acute cases of elderly people needing care.

Lord Hanningfield will be leading a debate in the House of Lords next week to discuss the problem and said there was support from every political party on tackling the issue.

He said: “There are politicians from all parties and many councils wanting to get the message to the Government that we need more money for elderly people.”

Details of the funding were confirmed by Local Government Minister Phil Woolas in the House of Commons yesterday although councils had been given the figures a year ago.

Mr Woolas said this “stable, predictable and adequate” funding package would enable authorities to keep council tax rises to less than 5%.

The Government moved to two-year funding plans last year enabling Mr Woolas to maintain the settlement contained “no surprises” for local authorities.

He said: “We have provided a stable and predictable funding basis for local services. We expect local government to respond positively as far as council tax is concerned.

“We expect to see an average council tax increase in England in 2007-08 of less than 5%. We will not allow excessive council tax increases.”

He said the Government had used its capping powers to curb excessive spending in the past and would not hesitate to do so again.

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