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Oldham Council hits out at care funding announcement

The government announced a multi-million pound funding boost for local authorities last week but council leaders say ‘it’s not enough’. 

Secretary of State Michael Gove announced the £600m package with £500 million set aside for children and adults’ social care. 

The soaring demand and price of social care is a growing burden on councils around the country, officers say.

Councillors in Oldham, where demand in adults has sored by more than 10pc in the last eight years, were critical of the announcement.

They said the ‘generic’ announcement was poorly timed and did not go far enough to address the deep-seated issues in social care and local authority funding. 

Council leader Arooj Shah said: “They’ve just made a generic announcement. It makes us hopeful because at this stage anything they give us will be appreciated. 

“But we don’t know how much it is, what kind of criteria they’ll associate with it, what they’ll ring fence it for. We have no idea what’s going to happen. We don’t know if it will be enough to reduce the significant pressure we’re under. 

“Just making a statement simply isn’t enough – it doesn’t help us in any way,  shape or form.” 

The announcement arrived just as the council was meeting to discuss proposals for its 2024/25 budget.

But it provided little relief as councillors set out plans to cut £2.8m from health and social care and additional cuts to children’s and family care provisions. 

Demand among adults alone has risen by 10.5 per cent in the last eight years but funding and staffing levels have not kept pace. In Oldham the situation is even more extreme, they added.

More than 9,000 people requested social care in the last year, according to the council – five percent of Oldham’s population and above the national average of 4.4pc.

Coun Abdul Jabbar, cabinet member for Finance, told the budget scrutiny committee meeting: “We of course welcome the money [announced by the Secretary of State]. But I just question the timing of it. It could have been done in the autumn statement. It could have been done at the provisional settlement stage. It would have helped us plan ahead. 

“Although there will be some new money coming in, the position remains that we are in a very difficult situation to continue to provide key services in Oldham.”

The proposed budget would see cuts and reductions to care contracts and reduce the number of social workers by 12. 

Coun Shah suggested what was needed were long-term plans and multi-year settlements to fund council services. 

“These one year settlements just don’t go far enough,” she said. “By the time you have gone through all the administration they ask of you, you’re at a stage where the impact of the money simply isn’t as much as if we’d had a multi-year settlement.”

“What would be really helpful of the government would be for them to actually listen to us to make sure we’re getting the money where demand is high, the pressure is increasing and we need in the most.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities responded: “We recognise councils are facing challenges and that is why we recently announced an additional £600 million support package for councils across England, increasing their overall proposed funding for next year to £64.7 billion – a 7.5pc increase in cash terms. 

“This additional funding has been welcomed by leading local government organisations, but we remain ready to talk to any concerned council about its financial position.”

The department noted that councils will know their allocations when the final settlement is published at the beginning of February.

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