ELDERLY residents are facing a hat-trick of price hikes and funding cuts as the city moves to balance the books against the background of a £36 million shortfall over the next year.
Hourly home care rates are set to rise by £1 to £13.50, with day care charges increasing for the second time in two years – from £6.50 to £7 – in a bid to net an extra £60,000 for the public purse.
In a further blow, the city is preparing to close almost half its 15 public bowling greens due to “falling demand”, with plans to convert seven venues into allotments, tennis courts or outdoor gymnasia.
It also emerged that scrutiny of carers is set to increase, with times set to be routinely checked electronically and payments for unfulfilled work clawed back from private care providers
The move comes just weeks after council carers were criticised for rushing through a 45-minute home visit in less than ten minutes, earning comparisons with an “F1 pit stop crew”.
The city claims home care fees, which have remained static for the last four years, are declining amid increased uptake of personal care – paid by the Scottish Government for people aged 65 or over – and will continue to be means-tested for ability to pay.
Today, older people’s charities warned the elderly risk being priced out of care services if price hikes were to occur year after year. Doug Anthoney, communication and campaign officer for Age Scotland, accepted some increases were inevitable but predicted grave consequences if costs were to rise indefinitely.
He said: “We wouldn’t ever say that charges should never go up because costs increase and you have to consider inflation but it’s incumbent on the council to make sure charges are affordable and they don’t exclude people that need to use the services.”
On the threat to publicly-owned bowling greens, Mr Anthoney said: “Bowling is a very popular sport for many older people and is part of a healthy lifestyle that enables people to go out and enjoy company and exercise.
“If you reduce the number of opportunities in bowling greens it can result in the longer term in more older people being more likely to have poor health and fitness.
“Reducing investment in these is perhaps a little short-sighted.”
Around £8.7 million of Scottish Government funding has been ring-fenced for “preventative services” to support elderly populations in their own homes and communities, health chiefs have stressed. Another £5m is being invested in under-pressure services for older people who are chronically ill or are disabled.
Health convener Councillor Ricky Henderson defended the proposed care fees hike, insisting poorer residents would be exempt.
He said: “The council has been set a target of saving £36m in the next financial year, which is a challenge, and every department has to take their share of that saving.
“Where charges are increased, I think the majority are means-tested so those people on low incomes will be protected and only those who can afford the slight increase will have to pay it. We have set about that in a way that is trying to run services more efficiently and increase income where possible while at the same time protecting frontline services.”
Cllr Henderson said only under-used bowling greens were earmarked for the chop and insisted the city was liaising with bowling clubs to ensure active venues would not be closed.
Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin Corbett said many services highlighted in the draft budget were at “risk of being diluted” and pointed to changes to disability services as an area of concern.
He said: “Special attention will need to be given to various planned budget cuts for carers and support for vulnerable people. As the UK Government’s welfare cuts bite deeper, the council needs to avoid heaping even more pressure on people who are already struggling.”
The public are now invited to comment on the city’s financial blueprint for the next year ahead of a budget meeting in February.
Where the savings will come from
Services for communities: £500,000
Prices at pay and display meters are set to rise by 20p while parking permits would climb by 10 per cent across the board.
Children and families: £1.3m
Class sizes set to rise while headteachers and classroom assistants could lose their jobs in a bid to protect core school budgets.
Children and families: £1.1m
A total of 11 beds for troubled kids in residential homes could be slashed.
Health and social care: £400,000
Review of non-statutory overtime and use of agency staff to cover sickness/annual leave on front line posts.
Health and social care: £100,000
Disabled residents could face a flat rate charge for transport to day services at £1 per single journey,
Services for communities: £5m
Council vehicle fleet slashed with fuel costs examined and talk of deploying more energy-efficient vehicles.
Children and families: £221,000
Moving an early years centre to the west of the city to provide outreach support to families there.
Increase follows ‘pit stop care’ row
HIKED fees for care services come in the wake of damaging reports that a 93-year-old received her full nightly care package in under ten minutes.
In August, the News told how Mabel McGuire, from The Pleasance, was supposedly washed, changed and put to bed in a fraction of the time her care team were allocated.
Ms McGuire was supposed to receive a 45-minute visit every morning and night under her home care support agreement with the council seven days a week. But carers were spending around ten minutes with her on average and as little as five to seven minutes according to their time sheets.
Today, detailed blueprints of the city’s financial masterplan for the coming years shows scrunity of electronic time sheets will continue, with care at home providers expected to increase their capacity. Payments to private or voluntary care providers who fail to meet “contract requirements” would be clawed back under the new system.
Meanwhile, in a move likely to frustrate disabled support groups, the city is set to charge a flat rate for disabled transport to day services. Disabled people would be charged £1 per single journey, with their weekly outlay capped at £5 in a bid to net £100,000 for city.
And taxi fares to day care services would no longer be paid for users eligible for a mobility car or those receiving a higher DLA rate.
Savings from this drive would hit around £100,000 with a report stating: “Potential impact of welfare reform on Department of Work and Pensions funding for mobility needs will be monitored in case these affect ability to pay for transport.”
Devil in the detail of homeless tender
FINANCE chiefs hope to squeeze around £2.3 million of savings from a spending shake-up on homelessness as the city aims to cut its outlay to external agencies dealing with the problem.
Re-tendering homelessness services through a “competitive tendering approach” is expected to provide best value amid a consultation to streamline services and cultivate “smarter, more efficient working”.
Homeless charities have praised Edinburgh’s record but said it was unlikely the required savings could be bled from an already “stretched” third sector.
Daniel Coote, policy and practice co-ordinator at Homeless Action Scotland, said the Capital registered a 4 per cent drop in homeless applications in the last year, while an inspection of its homeless service achieved an ‘A’ rating – the only Scottish council to achieve the feat.
He added: “Homeless Action Scotland believes any proposals should not jeopardise the good services already being provided.
“As with any draft document; the devil is in the detail, but it is hard to imagine that £2.3m savings could be delivered by the already stretched third sector – especially in light of new pressures arising from welfare reform.”
Meanwhile, city chiefs have trumpeted the unprecedented early publication of draft budget proposals which has allowed five months for consultation.
Come February 2014, the nuances and controversies of the budget will be pored over in detail during a vigorous debate at City Chambers but before then the public will get to have its say.
Edinburgh is thought to be the first Scottish local authority to publish its finance blueprint and feedback is being sought from residents.
Today, finance convenor Cllr Alasdair Rankin, left, appealed for people express their views on the draft proposals.
He said: “With a £1 billion budget it is only fair that the people of Edinburgh get to have their say on where the money should be spent and we’ll be actively trying to seek feedback from the city’s residents, local groups and stakeholders.”