Fears for vital services as Council says it will fail to hit £7.7m savings target

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Fears have been raised about the impact on vital services after the city council ordered £2.4 million cut in spending on health and social care over the next six months.

In August, the authority said it would fail to carry out £7.7m of projected savings by the end of the financial year.

City Chambers on the royal mile

City Chambers on the royal mile

Progress has been made through one-off savings, but projected savings to core service areas including social care, communities and family have still not been found.

A report to the council’s Finance and Resources ­Committee says there is ­“insufficient confidence” that further savings can be made from the communities and families budget.

The report adds that for the council’s health and social care budget, “there remains an urgent need to identify and implement specific measures to substantially reduce the projected overspend in 2018-19 and bring expenditure back within approved levels on a sustainable basis”.

The council’s executive directors have been instructed by the authority’s chief executive Andrew Kerr to identify “additional savings and mitigations” in order for a balanced overall financial position to be reported to the Finance and Resources Committee’s next meeting in December.

The council’s families and communities budget has been squeezed largely due to increased costs including for temporary accommodation, home-to-school transport, rising school rolls, community access to schools and the increased use of placements linked to accommodating a number of Unaccompanied AsylumSeeking Children (UASC) within the city.

A funding agreement to support additional health and social care service, which is hoped will improve delayed discharge levels, is in the ­process of being finalised with NHS Lothian.

Cllr Alasdair Rankin, convener of finance and resources, said: “The services provided within communities and families and health and social care are to a significant extent demand-led and, as such, ­subject to continuing expenditure pressures.

“Work is in hand, however, to identify and develop further potential mitigating actions whilst continuing to meet our statutory requirements.

“A significant constraint has been increasing capacity and attracting more people to work in the care sector. A substantial step we are taking in this respect is to improve the rates of pay we can offer.”

He added: “While there is no change to the projections in these specific areas as yet, in overall terms, the forecast level of overspend has reduced by 70 per cent since the committee’s earlier report, with a £2.6m improvement across the resources and place directorates and £2.7m of savings in other corporate areas.

“Directors are continuing to examine a range of other options, to achieve a balanced position by the financial year-end.”

Opposition councillors have raised concerns next year’s budget process is not starting from a position of confidence that the finances can be balanced.

Conservative Cllr Andrew Johnston said: “I’m obviously very concerned that we have a £6.1m health and social care deficit, £1.5m for place and £5m for communities and families. Officers are clearly under a lot of pressure to make these savings, but ultimately the Scottish Government is not funding local authorities properly.

“We are about to go through another challenging budget process. I don’t see how we can have confidence that next year’s savings are going to be made if we are so far off last year’s projected savings.

“These are core services like social care that should be very high up the list of things that should be prioritised.”

Green Cllr Gavin Corbett called on the Scottish Government to help find a long-term solution to the issues.

He said: “The narrowing of the budget gap is welcome but it is mostly through one-off or council-wide savings, which are not going to be available in future years.

“On vital services like health and social care, homelessness and school use, the mismatch between need and money available remains unchanged. In the short term, managers will be doing what they can to reduce pressure, but it is increasingly hard to do that without real impact on the service in question.

“That is why it is so important for the council to be able to increase the size of the cake, both through its own income-raising powers and through increased funding from Scottish Government, as Scottish budget day in December looms.

“Scottish ministers need to allow councils to invest in services rather than spending all their time robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The Evening News launched the Care in Crisis campaign in May 2017 amid growing evidence of the extent of the failings in the Capital’s social care system.

Care services are under huge pressure across the UK as they struggle to meet the increasing support needs of an ageing population amid funding pressures and difficulties attracting and retaining staff. The problems in Edinburgh, however, have been among the worst in the country.

One of the worst inspection reports on care services ever published in Scotland warned last year that elderly people in the Capital had to be in “critical” need before receiving the support they needed. Care inspectors found that the frail and elderly had to wait 100 days on average even 
to have their needs assessed, and that “stretched” staff struggled to understand the range of services on offer.

Delivery of “key processes” was “unsatisfactory”, the worst possible rating, while in four other areas the city’s health and social care partnership – which brings together services provided by the NHS and city council – was instructed to improve services in four other areas judged “weak”.

This newspaper has pledged to continue highlight the problems – and informed opinion on potential solutions – until the care crisis is resolved.