£10m cuts prompt fears for vulnerable

ALMOST £10million could be cut from Northumberland’s adult services and housing budget, prompting fears that vulnerable residents may suffer.

Northumberland County Council says it will have to cut £51million over the next three years to meet efficiency savings of £10million a year and absorb inflation and other costs.

To balance the budget for 2012/13 the authority is proposing £16.6million of savings, with adult services taking the brunt of the cost cuts in a £9.7million reduction.

The council plans to save £400,000 of that by removing the ceiling on charges for non-residential care, but members of the ruling Administration say £800,000 will be saved from a review of funding streams, and £7.6million will come from changes to the way it commissions social care services.

However, Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said there are huge concerns about the proposals.

“We are going to have a close look at the detail of the budget proposals, but the first reaction is that 70 per cent of the impact of the £10million cuts this year is on adult services so it is going to directly impact on services for older people,” he said.

“There is also a proposal to raise the limit for home care charges for older people. The council is looking to raise £400,000 by having no limit whatsoever on that charge. Right across the county there are older people who are extremely worried about this.”

But Council Executive Member for Adult Care and Wellbeing Ian Lindley said that service users would not suffer.

“The majority of the savings in adult care will be made through changes to the way that we commission social care services,” he said.

“In the past, costs for many care services have been higher in Northumberland than other local authorities. We believe that there is scope for providers to improve and make savings with no adverse impact on the care given. We are consulting both our providers and service users about this.

“We are now on a journey to put preventative work at the heart of what we do, whilst also ensuring people get the maximum support to live independent lives of the highest possible quality in their own homes and communities.

“I am delighted that the Government has allocated additional funding to support social care and joint health programmes and we will be working in partnership with NHS North of Tyne and partners in voluntary organisations to maintain and improve key services and ensure people receive the best support possible.”

Coun Jackson is also concerned about plans to cut £384,000 from the regeneration budget, saying it is ‘the wrong thing at the wrong time’.

Other savings proposed for the coming year include £3.8million from the corporate department, just over £1million each from the schools and transformation budgets, £600,000 from public health and protection and £74,000 from the fire service.

Council Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt said: “We have already made enormous efficiency savings of over £100million since the unitary authority was formed in 2009 so this has made the budget setting process for this year very challenging, as it will be again next year.

“We are continuing to look at new and innovative ways of working through the use of modern technology and combining services. We are also in the process of rationalising our assets. In doing so, we believe we can make the necessary savings this year, with very little impact on the services we provide to the residents of Northumberland.”

The council’s three-year capital programme was set last April, with funding for the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme, Northern Bypass and Ashington Leisure Centre agreed later.

Additional proposals include £7million for a broadband scheme, and £27.7million is allocated to support affordable housing.

The authority is considering carefully an offer from the Government to give £3.7million in return for a freeze on council tax, but while the Executive is minded to accept the deal, members have been warned that it could mean the council misses out on £15.6million by 2015 through lost recurring revenue from tax rises.

Coun Tebbutt said: “The Government is offering the council the opportunity to freeze council tax for a second year by offering a 2.5 per cent increase in funding, but this is a non-recurring offer and the report does set out the implications of that over the next four years.

“While the administration is minded to accept the 2.5 per cent, this is a crucial decision for both the short-term and long-term. These proposals are out for consultation and we will listen to all views.”

The budget proposals will be considered by the Executive next month before they are presented to the full council on February 22.