Controversial social care cuts likely to be ditched - but Norfolk council tax bills would rise to cover cost
15:12 25 January 2016
Two of the most controversial proposals in a package of cuts to services for vulnerable people should be ditched, councillors have recommended - but council tax bills would have to rise to cover the cost of safeguarding them.
Services for older people and children, Norfolk fire stations and the future of libraries and museums are at risk because Norfolk County Council needs to save £111m over three years.
Some £123m of cuts and savings have been put forward, which gives councillors some leeway in deciding which services could be saved when it comes to setting the budget next month.
And, at a meeting today of the council’s adult social care committee - which was tasked with considering £52m worth of cuts and savings over the next three years - councillors made clear they wanted two proposals which have caused the most concern to be abandoned.
One was to save £5.1m by cutting funding for Supporting People’s services. Those are prevention services which help people who are vulnerable or have a disability to live independently and remain in their home.
The other was a proposal that the county council should stop transport funding for people who get adult social care, such as to day services - to save £4.8m.
Both proposals proved unpopular in the consultation over the cuts. Hilary MacDonald, chief executive of Age UK Norfolk warned the transport cut could lead to people reducing services they use or stop using them completely.
And, at today’s meeting councillors said, with the government having signalled authorities could impose a 2pc council tax precept specifically to raise money to spend on adult social care, those cuts should be scrapped.
Eric Seward, Liberal Democrat councillor for North Walsham East, said: “What came across to me, from lobbying from a day centre in my division and looking at the consultation responses were two things. “One. that many users’ personal budgets on their own do not enable people to adequately cover travel costs and second, that people do travel some distances to attend day services and once, they are there and find they like it, they do not want to be moved again. I am drawn to the conclusion that these cuts are undeliverable.”
Conservative Bill Borrett, who represents Elmham and Mattishall, said the proposal should never have been put on the table, as officers themselves had rated it as not being deliverable.
He said: “I think the administration has unnecessarily stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest. This whole thing is a piece of theatre and funnily enough the service users have said they were against it.
“It is all a house of cards set up by the current administration. It should never have been brought forward in the first place.”
Committee chairman Sue Whitaker, Labour councillor for Lakenham, said options had to be considered as part of the move to provide services differently - even if it ultimately chose to reject some of the proposals.
A proposal by Mr Borrett that the committee should signal it wanted to see a 2pc council tax precept, specifically to use on adult social care, was unanimously backed.
If council tax does rise, it would be the first time County Hall has increased its share in five years.
While the adult social care committee has made its views clear, its recommendations - along with those of other committees - will be considered at the policy and resources committee on February 8.
That committee will make a recommendation to full council which meets on February 22, where the council budget - and the county’s council tax for the year ahead - will be decided.