County council leader: Government needs to 'get a grip'

Friday, January 24th, 2020 1:22pm

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

Derbyshire's Conservative leader says that the Tory-run central government needs to "get a grip" on funding for vulnerable children and adults.

This comes as Derbyshire County Council faces further stark warnings over its budget from its head of finance – continuing a trend of recent years.

Yesterday (Thursday, January 23) the council’s cabinet signed off on proposals for a £560 million budget for the financial year 2020 to 2021, along with a council tax increase of two per cent exclusively to fund adult social care, and nearly £19 million in budget cuts.

These plans will head to full council next month for final approval.

Cllr Barry Lewis, leader of the authority, said that the council was facing severe pressure on its budgets for children’s services and adult social care.

He said: “They are two particular areas which are challenging points for us as a local authority, and other local authorities.

“In the realm of children’s services we are facing a budget shortfall of £7 million pounds (which could peak at £8.5 million by April) and that is not insignificant.

“We have pumped in, in recent years, £20 million and that’s a lot of money for us, so there is a real need for the government to start thinking about how it is going to tackle this issue.

“It has been a long-standing campaign from a lot of local authorities that this issue needs to be tackled, so it is one that government needs to get a grip on.

“The other aspect is adult social care. We all know we have an ageing demographic here in the UK, it is not unique to us as a local authority. This will be the lowest council tax rise for five years and we know council tax is a burden for hard-working families. It is our duty to keep it as low as we can.

“The system for the adult social care precept, offered again at two per cent this year, is that if we do not take that, we will be disadvantaged in the future.”

This year’s county precept would see Band D homeowners paying more than £25 extra.

Alongside a now approved police precept rise of £10 for Band D, this will see homeowners paying £35 extra.

The various precepts for the fire service, district and borough council and parish councils are yet to be finalised but could see this overall increase rise to around £40.

Cllr Simon Spencer, deputy leader of the authority, also took aim at central government for the way in which it is funding local councils.

He said: “The £2 billion pothole fund is welcome but I would much sooner see it in the base budget. Planned expenditure will save somewhere in the area of 30 per cent over unplanned expenditure and we need base funding not one-off funding.

“That has to change for the benefit of those of us at the sharp end.”

Meanwhile, Peter Handford, the council’s chief of finance once again gave a stark warning to leading councillors over the authority’s budget.

He said: “There are a lot of challenges facing this authority – particularly in adult social care. The increase in the living wage and children’s services pressures add £25 million worth of pressure to the council this year alone.

“This makes it very difficult to do the things that you as politicians want to do. We need to keep a draw on costs on all that we do, we still have a funding gap in savings. There are still years of financial challenges facing us.”

However, he said that Derbyshire is not one of the authorities highlighted as being among the 10 per cent in financial stress.

In Mr Handford’s budget papers, discussed at the meeting, he had written that a failure to meet budget cut targets could “lead to issues around financial sustainability that would require urgent, radical savings rather than the planned process that minimises the impacts of reductions as far as possible”.

The council is to make cutbacks of £65 million by 2024 and had identified £52 million of these.

Cllr Alex Dale, cabinet member for children’s services, said that while the council is putting tens of millions more into the department each year it has proven difficult to match increase in demand.

He said demand for placements has “sky-rocketed” in the past few years along with surging costs for these placements – often out of the county.

Click on the video at the top of the page to watch what Derbyshire County Council leader Barry Lewis had to say. 

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