Live coverage of Norfolk County Council budget meeting as councillors vote on biggest council tax rise in years
- Credit: Copyright Archant Norfolk
Councillors are set to vote today on a 4.8pc council tax rise to provide a £25m injection of extra cash into adult social care in Norfolk.
But the new services director has warned the money would only serve to head off needless hospital admissions and significant cuts would still have to be made.
James Bullion said despite the investment his staff would only be able to focus on those in greatest need.
The former director of adult operations at Essex County Council spoke ahead of today's Norfolk County Council meeting where the 2017-18 budget will be finalised.
Millions of pounds would become available to adult social services through increased support grant and the council tax rise.
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But Mr Bullion said 70pc of it would disappear on the 'rising cost of care', including higher wages for carers, rather than helping more people at a time when the sector was under intense pressures.
'If you have a long term health problem that hasn't been dealt with we are at the end of the food chain and there is a clear rise in the needs of people who are poorly and frail,' he said.
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'The cost of care has also gone up quite sharply over the last two or three years. That is partly to do with national initiatives like the Living Wage. We welcome the care sector being paid a decent wage to attract more people into the industry but it increases our costs.'
He added: 'We spend around £300m every year - half of that goes on older people and the other half on people with complex needs or disabilities. This year the council tax rise and precept has become more liberal and Norfolk County Council has gone for the maximum - investing an extra £25m in adult social care.
'70pc of that money goes on the price of care rather than additional numbers of people being dealt with. That is why we have a curious situation where we have more investment but we are still having to make savings.'
The county has come under fire for a 50pc cut in the amount of disability support proposed in the budget, and reducing housing support from £10m to £4.5m, which campaigners said would lead to an 'explosion in homelessness'.
Mr Bullion said they would be renegotiating contracts with providers but only focus resources on 'particular people at risk'.
'What we can't do is invest in prevention,' he said. 'We can't take the broader focus on prevention we would like to because we are trying to keep pace with the price of care and demography. 'We have a proposal next year to target the amount of supported housing we are funding toward people we know are at risk. 'Where we can show that has a return in bringing down future need, we have a responsibility to do it. 'Where we are reducing supported housing spend it is not for those people we want to target particular help. For mental health services or for young people living in care we are not cutting those.'
Mr Bullion added communities may have to take difficult decisions about how adult social care was funded in the future, particularly with a 'pinch point' approaching in 2020. 'There is a choice for communities about whether they want to pay for these services or we may have to decommission them,' he said.
'For anyone at risk or a high category of need we will put in individual support by maintaining about £1.1m of floating support. 'We need to build up a prevention alliance with local councils and the NHS to deal with prevention collectively rather than rely on social services to do more. To get the situation mitigated some costs may need to shift to the community. 'If extra money had not been available this year we would have been in a situation where we would not be able to buy enough care and end up admitting people into hospital.'
Mr Bullion said:'There is now a real pinch point coming up in 2020. 'That is the time when health and social care is supposed to be integrated and the NHS is supposed to have significantly reduced its debt.
'The government needs to be clear on a national model for paying for social services by then, or completely devolve the situation to councils.'
Organisations such as St Martins Housing Trust, YMCA Norfolk and the Benjamin Foundation, which are commissioned to provide accommodation and support services, have called for the council not to push ahead with cuts. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have all tabled slightly different amendments, but all call for the cuts to the housing support budget to be scaled back.
A protest will be held outside County Hall at 8am by opponents to the budget.
Help for the homeless could be torn away
Service providers are holding their breath ahead of the budget vote with the prospect of further funding cuts looming.
Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, said: 'We are as lean as we can be. The difficulty is any cut for us unbalances the system.
'The staff do their best to try to make sure they can continue a service on a day to day basis. If there were greater stability in the system we could devote more time to our services.
'We had 200 young people apply to us last year we were not able to provide a space for at the time they applied.
'We have been through all our back office functions to review them and be able to make efficiency savings.
'We understand the pressures the county are under and we want to make sure we can be part of the solution for preventing increased demand and ensuring an adequate level of supply for the future.'