Council plans to invest in social care while managing long-term financial pressures
Investment in support of Oxfordshire’s most vulnerable children and adults is at the heart of emerging county council budget proposals – with the children’s social care budget set to more than double in a decade by 2023.
The budget proposals are being reviewed by the county council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 13 December before the council sets its budget in February. Residents and other stakeholders can comment on proposals as part of the formal budget consultation process.
Locally and nationally, the number of children at risk referred to social services is increasing. The number of children taken into care by the county council has increased by 80 per cent since 2011. Last month, the Local Government Association released figures showing more than 1,000 children a day are being referred to social services across the country.
To make sure the growing number of children at risk of abuse and neglect are protected, the children’s social care budget has increased annually from £46m in 2011 to £78m this year (2018/19). Next year, the children’s services budget will need to increase to £86m, and up to £95m in 2022/23 – more than doubling in ten years.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the leader of the county council, said: “Where a child is at real risk of abuse or neglect we act first, and deal with the budget impact later. We must meet these budget pressures by finding ways to make savings so we can continue to fund services to support the most vulnerable children and adults.”
The growing number of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) has meant significant investment is planned to meet increasing demand, with further proposals considered by the county council’s Cabinet in December.
Robust financial position despite long-term pressures
Tough decisions taken since 2010 have created a route to financial stability at Oxfordshire County Council as the council plans to set its 2019/20 budget at a time when other councils face financial challenges.
Councillor Hudspeth continued: “Pressure on funding for day-to-day council services remains intense for all councils, including here in Oxfordshire. We have listened to residents so that we can improve our services and continue to support all of Oxfordshire’s thriving communities.
“We have already agreed to invest up to £120m to improve roads and repair and maintain schools. We know these things are the top of many residents’ list of priorities and we have already spent an additional £10m on repairing roads this year.”
Supporting Oxfordshire’s ageing population
The proportion of older people and adults with complex needs in Oxfordshire is rising faster than the national average, with more people requiring care services each year.
As a result, the county council needs to save money in other parts of its budget to find more money to care for people who need our help the most. Next year the county council proposes to increase funding to adult social care services by £5m to account for demographic changes.
Councillor Hudspeth continued: “The government’s autumn budget provided additional funding for social services, which relieves some of the short-term pressures next year [2019/20] but like all councils, our social workers are dealing with more and more children and adults.”
Council Tax proposals
The council’s plan – agreed at the last budget in February 2018 - to raise Council Tax by 2.99 per cent in 2019/20 and 1.99 per cent in the years thereafter remains the same in the new budget proposals.
However, funding for local government beyond 2020 is currently uncertain, with councils waiting for funding decisions from central government which will not be known until late 2019.
The planned redesign of the council around the changing needs of residents and communities will maintain or improve services, with investment in new technology enabling us to save money in the process.
Transforming will enable us to meet future demand for council services – particularly for vulnerable children and adults – while continuing to invest in the county’s infrastructure.
Following agreement of the blueprint for the transformed council, the council is planning for the implementation of the changes and identifying the upfront investment needed, particularly in digital technology. The costs and savings from the implementation of the redesign over the next four years will be reflected in the budget once they have been finalised.
Have your say
We are asking people for their views on our budget proposals and our proposed Council Tax level for 2019/20. Read the consultation booklet and take part online from Thursday 6 December at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/budget. Alternatively pick up a copy of the consultation booklet at a library or email your views to email@example.com. The closing date for comments is Sunday 6 January 2019.
Main budget proposals
Budget increases to meet the predicated demand for services
- Investment of almost £6m by 2023 to increase care packages to meet assessed needs for adults with learning and physical disabilities. (Adult Social Care)
- An increase of £5.8m is proposed to be added to the budget in 2022/23 in adult social care to meet projected increased need as a result of the aging population. The council’s existing planning up to 2021/22 already includes provision for budget increases of £5.0m in 2019/20 and 2020/21 and £5.6m in 2021/22. (Adult Social Care)
- Invest £3.2m up to 2023 (£800,000 per year) to support the increasing number of children qualifying for school transport – in particular children with special educational needs. (Children, Education and Families)
- Invest £17m to support the predicted increasing numbers of children in care, including more permanent care staff (Children, Education and Families)
Other financial pressures
- Following a review by the Treasury, the employer contributions to the firefighter pension scheme have been increased nationally to meet the future costs of the scheme – this creates a pressure of £1.6m up to 2023. (Communities)
- Energy price increases of approx. 30% in 2017/18 continue to impact on the cost of providing street lighting and along with repayment of borrowing to pay for LED lighting upgrades this creates a pressure of £2.6m up to 2023. (Communities)
- Funding the inflationary increase in the rates the council pays to adult social care providers from 2020/21 to keep pace with potential increases in the National Living Wage and to respond to other inflationary pressures of £3.3m (Adult Social Care)
- A growing number of children in the county have defined special educational needs (SEND). The number of SEND children; the increasing complexity of disabilities, and the legal changes that mean parents can ask for an assessment for more services has contributed to the growing numbers with an assessed need. This is an unavoidable budget pressure of £5.6m as the Department for Education grant does not cover council costs, and Oxfordshire receives one of the lowest grants in the country. (Corporate)
This is a list of some of the most significant savings that will be considered by members of the Performance Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 13 December.
Children, Education and Families
The following are proposals already announced that will now take place over coming financial years.
- The council is re-negotiating contracts with outside organisations who assist in the provision of children’s social care. Block contracts provide specific varieties of care for pre-agreed payment. This would save £2.65m between 2019 and 2023.
- The council is working on a new model of delivering children’s social care following the example of other councils who have been able to structure themselves differently to deliver faster more intensive and therefore more effective care to families while at the same time streamlining processes. This would save £1.74m up to 2023.
- Moving children in care back home with increased support rather than keeping them in expensive care placements could save £2.491m. This is based on a new ‘safer and sooner’ approach to family support developed with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
- Greater streetlight efficiency due to LED replacements would save £2.6m up to 2023.
Adult social care
- The council currently contributes money towards mental health services that sit with the NHS. This has not reduced over the last five years. Mental health has been protected to date but it is proposed that savings now be made in keeping with savings made elsewhere in adult social care. This would save £1m over 2020/21 and 2021/22 and a further £600,000 on staffing. The reduction in staff spend of £600k with Oxford Health is in order to invest in social work staff for special educational needs and safeguarding and is not an absolute reduction.
- In adult social care, proactive and supportive review / reassessments of learning disability packages of care to increase user independence and ensure best use of resources would save £1.5m
- A person’s care needs are assessed at the time the care is put in place and there are then annual review/reassessments. By investing in a more proactive approach to these review /reassessments care packages can be streamlined to ensure they continue to meet people’s eligible needs while capacity can be released for other people’s essential care needs. With a limited amount of home care the council needs to ensure the right people are getting the right amount of care. This could save £2.4m
- In adult social care, savings of £1.5m are expected as a result of price negotiations with providers on long and short-term care home beds.
Areas of uncertainty in budget setting looking forward to 2023
There are key areas in which councils need more information in coming months:
- Fair Funding Review – the Government is examining the current formula that decides funding allocations for local authorities by updating the assessment of their needs. The Government plans an updated funding formula by looking again at the factors that drive costs for local authorities.
- National Government’s Spending Review – the Treasury is conducting a review across Central Government as to how each much each Whitehall Department will receive in funding. This will affect local government but also defence, health, home affairs, education and all other Government departments.
- Business Rates Retention – the Government is undertaking a review of how much councils should retain in Business Rates that are collected locally.
- Taxbase and collection fund – for 2019/20 the council is awaiting information from district councils about how many homes will be paying Council Tax overall (factoring in housebuilding etc) and how successful district councils have been in collecting Council Tax from those eligible to pay.