Population pressure adds to the budget challenge

Somerset’s growing and ageing population will add around £5m to County Council costs next year as it works on ways to balance its budget.

The county’s population is growing by around 3,400 people a year and getting older. Estimates put the cost of this ‘demographic pressure’ at around £5m with inflation adding a further £3.5m to 2016/17 costs. At the same time the authority is also facing major reductions in its direct funding from Government.

The County Council needs to bridge a budget gap of around £27m for 2016/17 and between 2014/15 and 2019/20 its direct funding from Government is expected to have fallen by around £63m.

Budget infographic

Councillor Harvey Siggs, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “People living longer in Somerset is great news and should be celebrated. But for a local authority this demographic pressure makes the difficult job of balancing our budget even harder.

“We cannot ignore the fact that having more older residents, often coping with a number of complex health issues, poses a significant challenge as demand for services, particularly social care support, increase year after year. It’s a nationwide issue but one that is particularly pronounced in Somerset.”

Estimates show that by 2030 there will be an extra 56,000 people aged 65 and over living in Somerset – 30 per cent of the population compared to 23 per cent today. In less than 20 years there will be some communities where people aged 65 and over make up more than 50 per cent of the population.

The Council has a number of long-term initiatives to manage demand for services and make its funding go further.

  • Somerset Choices – a joint website created with the NHS giving information to help people to find support locally so, where possible, they can help themselves without involving the local authority.
  • Community based social care hubs – working closely with voluntary organisations they allow people to visit a social worker close to home, resolving issues early and, where possible, with local support.
  • Qualified Social Workers based in our contact centre – resolving enquiries immediately where possible, without the need for full social care assessments.
  • Closer working with health – exploring the potential for much closer integration with the council’s social care services to reduce any duplication and provide health and social care support ‘as one’ with a focus on the outcomes for patients and service users.

“We have to look at balancing our budget not just for next year, but for years to come,” said Cllr Siggs. “Reductions in funding combined with our population profile mean some fundamental changes are needed. The most vulnerable will always be prioritised, but part of the change has to be greater emphasis on us helping people help themselves wherever possible.”

“I would also ask people to support us in our push for fairer funding for Somerset from the Government,” added Cllr Siggs. “The current formula for allocating funds does not do enough to recognise the challenges and costs of providing services in a sparsely populated rural setting where the population is becoming increasingly elderly.”

Please visit http://fairerfundingforsomerset.org/ for more information and to sign the Fairer Funding for Somerset petition.