Last week, our Councillors agreed a budget that will see significant increases in spending on services that support vulnerable children, young people and adults, in response to rising demand for those services.
It means that we’ll be spending 18.4 per cent more on children’s services, and 8.8 per cent more on adult services. Councillors also allocated extra millions for roads and drainage to tackle potholes caused by this winter’s icy spells and torrential rainfall.
Overall, we’re budgeting to spend £696 million on services this financial year – that’s 10.5 per cent more than last year – as well as spending millions more on infrastructure such as schools and roads.
But it comes at a price. The average Band D householder will see our proportion of their council tax bill increase by £1.49 a week.
The fact is though, the council tax rise, plus funding that we receive from the Government, will not balance our budget book.
Spending this much on priority services to meet significantly growing demand means having to make savings in the region of £47.5 million from elsewhere, in order to balance expenditure – which we have to do, by law.
Councillor James McInnes, our Cabinet Member with responsibility for adult social care, says:
“Devon County Council is facing a huge financial challenge, and we must get the most of every pound we spend. That means looking carefully at every area of our work to ensure that resources are being used as effectively as possible.”
And that’s where we are right now. Having agreed the budget last week, we now need to make those difficult decisions about how and where the savings will come from.
Just over £30 million of the savings are earmarked to come from adult social care.
We’ve launched consultations this week, putting forward proposals on ways that we could make savings from some specific services within adult social care. And we’re contacting the people who use those services, directly, to ask them what they think.
We’re putting forward the proposals, having heard already from people who use our services that they would like the support they receive to be more tailored to them, rather than ‘one size fits all’. So we’d like people to be able to access the services they need, that are tailored more to them, and that are close to where they live.
A disproportionately high level of our spending is tied up with the buildings from which some of our adult social care services are delivered – the walls and roofs distinct from the services being provided.
We’ve wanted to move away from costly building-based models of care, that require people to travel distances to a building to access a service. Instead, we’d like people to have access to the support they need wherever they live, with the council and NHS working in partnership with care providers and the voluntary sector in communities across Devon.
So the proposals we’ve put forward this week about possible changes to our day service, respite services and drop-in support for people with learning disabilities and mild mental health conditions, are largely about reducing the number of buildings used to provide some of those services.
They’re not about reducing the support that people receive – people who are eligible for our support will, of course, continue to receive the help they need to meet their individual needs.
But the conversation that we’ll be having now with people who use these services will be about what those services look like and where and how people access them.
In other parts of our adult services budget, we’re also putting forward proposals to reduce spending on our contract that provides information, advice and guidance to unpaid carers; and potentially to stop our contribution to non-statutory services, provided alongside our District and City Council partners, that help some young adults who are hard to reach, including homeless.
“These are the difficult decisions a council has to make when faced with changing needs of a population and having to save millions of pounds from its budget,” says Cllr McInnes.
“And they are decisions that we are taking extremely seriously.
“We do not for one moment underestimate the impact that these proposals could have on some of the people we support and their families and carers.
“It is vitally important that we concentrate on getting the best possible outcomes for people from every pound we spend, and that access to services and support is fair for everyone across the county.
“These are proposals at this stage and there will be full and thorough consultation with those who use these services and their families and carers.
“Although the numbers of people who use these services is relatively few, we fully understand the value of them, which is why, if these proposals are progressed, we would look to provide alternative support to people in different ways that could also meet their care needs.
“We remain fully committed to supporting vulnerable adults with disabilities in the best way that we can.”
Consultations with people who use these services will begin from this Wednesday, with the duration of those consultations varying from 45 to 88 days.
“We’ll make no decisions until after the consultation and until after we’ve had time to fully digest what people tell us,” said Cllr McInnes.