PM's free care plan will cost region's taxpayers �8m

Shaun LowthorpeGordon Brown's headline grabbing plan to give free care to the elderly will cost council taxpayers in Norfolk and Suffolk more than �8m, it has emerged.Shaun Lowthorpe

Gordon Brown's headline-grabbing plan to give free care to the elderly will cost council tax payers in Norfolk and Suffolk more than �8m, it has emerged.

The prime minister set out plans during the Queen's Speech to give free care to the elderly deemed to have a critical need, but now councils are waking up to the fact that the pledge will come with a multimillion-pound price tag, the bulk of which they will have to fund.

The government has indicated that some of the funds could come from the Department of Health, but it also expects councils to find the cash from efficiency savings.

Norfolk County Council believes that it will have to find an additional �5m to pay for the changes, while in Suffolk the council is looking at a �3.8m bill.

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In Cambridgeshire, officers are yet to determine the costs but fear they could face a similar multimillion- pound figure.

And with Norfolk County Council already looking at cuts of around �140m in the next three years - including around �40m in its adult social care budgets - there are fears that the council will have to look at further cuts in order to foot the bill.

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Critics fear that plans could deprive people with less serious care needs of access to services and nationally even senior Labour peers have warned the plans are a "demolition job" on the national budget.

There are also fears that the cost could be pushed up by people who currently fund their own care suddenly applying to the councils to pay for it.

David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social care at Norfolk County Council, said the funding announcement came as a "bolt of out of the blue" for the authority and flew in the face of what the government had originally put forward in its green paper on social care.

"It's going to have a huge impact on everybody as a whole in Norfolk," Mr Harwood said. "It's likely to hit us quite hard and it's an extra burden on us at a time when the government is talking about cuts and savings being made.

"For some councils it could be a financial step too far and I think there will be strong opposition to it," he added.

Norman Lamb North Norfolk MP and Lib Dem health spokesman, called for a cross-party committee to look properly at the issue of funding care because the government's policy distorted the funding of care and could see wealthier pensioners get free care while poorer ones miss out.

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