This was the subject of a Council debate at the full Council meeting yesterday.
Draft savings proposals were outlined for inclusion into the 2011/12 draft budget - to be approved in a few weeks time.
In total the Council needs to find £17.8 million pounds worth of savings - an unprecedented amount.
Finding this level of savings has been incredibly challenging within my portfolio, and finding a way of protecting key housing and social care services and vulnerable residents has occupied much of my time over the past few months.
Thankfully throughout this process I have had the support of councillor colleagues as well as an excellent officer team.
Politicians talk frequently about needing to take tough decisions while I find myself in the position of actually taking them which is far from easy.
It was a pity that at the meeting a number of Labour councillors spurned the opportunity to work with us to protect services, beyond proposing an amendment that looked to have been prepared on the back of an envelope (and which they subsequently voted against when it became part of a substantive motion).
Labour councillors attacked a number of individual savings we proposed but put forward no alternative savings options themselves or any kind of explanation as to how they planned to continue to fund particular services. Yet again this is the behaviour of an ineffective opposition, not a credible alternative administration.
At the meeting for my part I took the opportunity to set out my thinking and general approach to developing social care services in the current very difficult financial climate.
My speech is attached in full below:-
"Myself and others have spent many months considering the best way to manage social care spending into the future,
We have thought carefully about the safest and fairest way to do this whilst knowing that the public finances are not a bottomless pit and that demand for our services is expected to increase.
Our priorities are clear:
We must prioritise protection of the most vulnerable in our community.
We must build a system of social care that is sustainable.
We will continue to drive up standards and care quality.We will continue to support carers.
We will increase choice and independence for vulnerable people.
Based on these priorities, the savings proposals we have put forward are based on sustainable and tested transformation of our existing services e.g. moving people with a learning disability out of high cost residential accommodation into independent living within the community –
this promotes choice and independence at the same time as saving money or the reablement service where we estimate we will around £730k next year alone.
And thanks to the hard work of our amazingly dedicated team of social care staff we are making good progress on this agenda.
Thanks again our staff adult social care in Reading is performing well – we will for example have 1 in 3 of our clients using a personal budget by the end of this financial year.
Protecting the vulnerable:
Within a very difficult financial environment we need to build a local care system which ensures the most vulnerable receive care whilst ensuring that resources are available for people who most need them in the future.
Increasing numbers of elderly and vulnerable residents placing huge pressures on our social care services – we have had to budget £2 million pounds just to cope with this growth alone
The Government has recognised this hence the Council is receiving additional funding via the PCT to help reduce hospital admissions and extend our highly-successful reablement services - 6 out of every 10 people who go through these services require no additional support.
We are currently consulting service users and the public on proposals which help us target resources on those that need them in the years to come.
We are also consulting on a potential change to eligibility criteria – this would help us to manage growth demand in years to come.
People already within the system will be reviewed and offered an alternative if they need it.
People who might otherwise have come into the formal care system will be able to access a range of preventative services e.g. help with cleaning/shopping or activities that ensure they are still part of the community and not socially isolated
We have set up and the public are using a single point of contact (ReAct) and a resource directory that lets people know what is happening and sources of help and support available to them
We have taken the difficult decision to merge our dementia care facilities to improve care and make better use of Council resources
We are committed to increasing the support available to carers and extending independence of vulnerable people via the use of personal budgets.
What are the alternatives to this approach?
I’ll list them as Labour so far have failed to come up with any convincing answers.
If we continued spending taxpayer’s money on social care according to the practices and policies of the previous Labour administration we would ultimately break the Council’s budget.
This would have the effect of seriously jeopardising in future years the vital services many vulnerable people in our community rely on.
One way we could cut spending substantially would be to bring in demand management as some other councils have done.
We rejected this option early on as we felt the risk to vulnerable people was not a price worth paying and it conflicts totally with our commitment to protecting the vulnerable.
Another option might be to increase Council Tax and and shift the burden back on to the elderly and those on fixed incomes
This is what the previous Labour administration did every single year.
But neither the Coalition Government nor my colleagues on the Council are prepared to go down this road.
Or we could continue to subsidise people who have been assessed as able to afford to pay for certain care services– this is what Labour did and it is simply not sustainable.
Continuing with such an approach would place severe pressure on the amount of resources available for other Council services.
So there are no easy alternative options open to us if we are going to fund social care for those that need it into the future.
I am not at all complacent about the challenges we will face both now and in the future. I am confident, however, that the approach we are taking- that of focussing resources on those that need them most and ensuring that our services are sustainable not just now but in the future, is the right one.