The leader of Gateshead Council has spoken of the heartbreak of having to make drastic budget cuts to plug an expected £46m shortfall in its finances over the next two years.
Coun Mick Henry said:
“It’s heartbreaking not just for me but people who work here who have joined me on the council. We’re all from Gateshead, most were born here and we believe in Gateshead.”
The council has already reduced spending by £90.6m since 2010 costing 1,700 jobs but, it says, because of further Government cuts it will have to find further savings of £46m by 2017.
It will mean over the seven year period it will have had to make around £140m in savings. In that time, the council workforce will have been slashed almost in half, from 4,000 to just below 2,000.
Coun Henry admitted: “You can’t lose that percentage of staff without it having a major impact on services.”
He was speaking after a Cabinet meeting which gave the go ahead for a raft of proposals which are now going out to public consultation.
Recommendations could see the equivalent of 275 full time equivalent posts being lost with leisure and housing provision being the areas hit hardest by the jobs axe.
There would also be a significant reduction in road maintenance, a review of library and children’s services and the axing of a free support service for elderly people.
In the arts, there will be a 15% reduction in funding to the Sage music centre and Baltic art gallery as well as a cut in backing for high profile events like the Great North Run.
Coun Henry, who is on the board of both the Sage and the Baltic said the cuts haven’t come as a surprise to them as last year the council outlined plans for a 30% reduction over two years.
“They recognise the need to become less dependant on public funding if they can,” he said.
Speaking about the situation overall, he commented: “I’m extremely concerned, however we just have to get on with it.”
There is a possibility it might have to revise its figures at the end of the year when the council will find out how much it will receive from the Government in the Local Government Finance Settlement.
“We’re not holding our breath about that,” said Coun Henry. “Hopefully there won’t be any surprises. Assuming it doesn’t get any better we’ll be making the decision on the budget in the New Year which will be set in mid February.”
He said he was hoping the public and the trade unions representing workers at risk would get involved in the consultations.
“We’re trying to talk through why we’re having to make these savings and what is the best way of doing this. We’ve started to make progress.
“We need to make people realise just how serious it is. It is a double whammy with its effect on the local economy and people’s lives.
“I’ve been in council for 28 years, during the famous days of Thatcher and we’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 nov 2014
The number of ‘under-employed’ workers in the North East has increased by 16% since the last election, figures reveal.
The underemployed are people who want to work more hours in their present job, like those in a part-time role who want to go full-time.
Analysis by the TUC from the Labour Force Survey shows that since the May 2010 election, under-employment has also gone up more than 20,000, from 127,578 to 148,368 in this region.
The fastest increase, from 9,000 to 11,500, has been among self-employed people who say they are under-employed – a 127% rise.
The TUC says this shows that despite talk of a recovery, continual real wage falls mean more people than ever are looking for extra hours to make ends meet.
North East TUC regional secretary Beth Farhat said:
“Ministers have made much of the UK’s improving jobs figures as a sign that all is now well with the economy. But here in the North East we have suffered the double whammy of rising joblessness and under-employment.
“There are now over 20,000 more people who would like to be working more hours than they are.
“As the squeeze on pay continues, many people don’t have enough money for everyday essentials, let alone the cash to cover any unexpected emergencies.
“With no let up in their financial woes in sight, people are understandably looking to take on more hours just to keep the wolf from the door.
“Without a decent pay rise and the creation of more permanent, secure jobs, under-employment is unlikely to fall any time soon.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman claimed the TUC’s figures were misleading.
“Independent statistics show that there are over 100,000 fewer people who say they are under-employed compared to a year ago, and that full-time jobs account for more than three quarters of the rise in employment since 2010.
“The proportion of part-time workers wanting a full-time job has just seen the biggest annual fall in over two decades.
“The overwhelming majority of those working part-time do so because it suits their circumstances, for example students or those with caring or parenting responsibilities. “
However, when contacted further and asked if the DWP disputed the TUC’s North East figures, there was no further reply.
> I bet there wasn’t… guy’s nose had probably grown so long he couldn’t get near the phone.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Sept 2014
Oxfordshire county council has for the past four years pulled out all the stops to avoid passing on a 38% cut in its grant for services for homeless people. But now the authority says it has nowhere left to turn and is reluctantly planning to phase in the reduction, including stopping all funding for dedicated support for those with substance misuse problems.
“It’s not something I like to do, but we’re not unusual in doing it,” says John Jackson, the council’s director for social and community services. “The reality is that I have to protect services for people I have a statutory responsibility for.”
According to new research published today, Oxfordshire’s decision is emblematic of the state of adult social care services across England. Findings from a survey of adult social care directors reveal that half say that fewer people are getting services; barely one in three says they are protecting the size of the personal budgets older people and disabled adults receive to pay for their care and support, and six in 10 directors are braced for more legal challenges.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), which conducted the survey, has hitherto been notably measured – critics might say overly so – in its response to cuts ordered by the coalition government since 2010. But now it warns that the social care system is on the brink of becoming unsustainable. Its president, David Pearson, calls on wider society to say how far it is prepared to protect “countless vulnerable people who will fail to receive, or not be able to afford, the social care services they need and deserve”.
Recalling that earlier this year the National Audit Office (NAO) questioned whether councils were approaching the limits of their capacity to absorb pressures on social care budgets, Pearson says: “Our survey shows beyond doubt that we have reached the point where we are unable to absorb the pressures they, and our survey, have identified.”
The survey adds to the sense of financial crisis. Demands for extra cash for the NHS are mounting and this week the Local Government Association (LGA) warns that councils in England face a £5.8bn funding gap by March 2016 due to further cuts in grant – forcing 12.5% savings in 2014-15 alone – and escalating demand for services, particularly for older people.
The funding gap for adult social care on its own will be £1.9bn by March 2016, the LGA estimated. Next year, 2015, is “make or break” for social care with the introduction of the government’s Better Care Fund, expected to pool more than £5bn of existing funds from councils and the NHS to spend on integrated services that are designed to keep people out of hospital. Current government funding for social care is £14bn.
Pearson, however, says the scale of the challenge far outstrips any benefit that may come from integration. “It is not the directors’ job, but that of the country as a whole and its politicians, to debate how much, in times of the most severe adversity, vulnerable people should be protected from the consequences of that adversity by the introduction of new money into social care.”
Norfolk gives a flavour of the challenge. The county’s population is projected to rise 25% by 2033, but numbers of those aged 65-74 will increase 54% and numbers aged 75 or over will soar by 97%. Much of this growth will be in isolated rural communities in the north of the county.
Norfolk’s adult social services department already reports growth of 53% in referrals over the past five years, together with a near-tripling of demand for intensive homecare support of 10 hours a week or more, at the same time as it has been making £72m savings, which includes cutting the numbers of social work posts and paring back preventive services. Nevertheless, it says spending on frontline care has been protected.
With further cuts of £59m in Norfolk social services planned over the next three years, however, continuing to protect care is no longer realistic. Some £14m is coming out of people’s personal budgets, £6m from support for people with learning or physical disabilities and £4.5m from the contract with the council’s own residential care company.
Asked what the future holds, Sue Whitaker, Labour chair of Norfolk’s adult social services committee, says: “I have a feeling that trying to provide anything on top of what is required statutorily is going to be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.”
This reflects the national picture painted by the Adass survey. Based on returns from directors in 144 councils with adult social care responsibilities, 95% of the total, Adass calculates that another £266m (1.9%) is being taken out of services in 2014-15, making a total 12% real-terms cut in spending since 2010 while demand for services has risen 14%. The net effect, therefore, is said to represent total savings since 2010 of 26% or £3.5bn.
Questioned about the likely impact over the next two years, 47% of directors say people who used services would get smaller personal budgets for their care and support; 48% say fewer people would be able to get services; 50% forecast greater pressure on the NHS; 55% expect care providers to face financial difficulty; and 59% anticipate receiving more legal challenges to cuts.
With most provision of care these days outsourced, 19% of directors admit not knowing if all their contractors paid the national minimum wage and only 3% are confident that all paid the higher, unofficial living wage. As many as 75% say they commission some homecare visits of just 15 minutes, although 90% of them say such visits were simply to check on an individual’s wellbeing or medication.
Richard Humphries, assistant director of policy at the King’s Fund thinktank, says the survey rings painfully true. “This is the consequence of the 2010 spending settlement that supposedly protected the NHS but left the social care system totally exposed,” he says. “It was all entirely predictable.
“What we are seeing now is a double whammy with both the NHS and social care simultaneously facing a crunch year next year. Most people cannot see how to get beyond this without extra money – not just money for more of the same, but for transformation of services. The Better Care Fund is OK, but it’s a very small step towards much bigger measures that are needed.”
Back in Oxfordshire, Jackson thinks the county council has a sustainable – if unpalatable – four-year plan for social care. His political boss, Conservative cabinet member Judith Heathcoat, has told the Oxford Mail she is “as comfortable as I can be” with the planned 38% cuts in housing-related support, which are part of a £64m savings package across the authority over four years.
Other savings will come through cheaper support for people with learning disabilities, moving them either out of residential care or perhaps from two-person flats to shared accommodation for five. Older people will also be hit: those attending health and wellbeing centres may next year be charged £20 a day.
Jackson’s fear is that growing numbers of legal challenges will be incurred over people’s statutory rights to care. “In the end we cannot not meet people’s care needs” he says. “We would want to do that morally anyway, but the law is very clear about it. We don’t need the courts to tell us that.”
This article was written by David Brindle, for The Guardian on Wednesday 2nd July 2014
Source – Welfare News Service, 02 July 2014