Council urges statement of intent

Somerset County Council is calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use this month’s Autumn Statement to ease the pressure on local authority finances.

Its Leader, Councillor John Osman, has written to Philip Hammond outlining steps that would help meet the challenge caused by falling funding and increased costs – particularly in social care.

Last financial year Somerset’s spend on supporting vulnerable adults, (including support for older people, people with physical disabilities, mental health services and support for people with learning disabilities) was £139.9m. That’s more than £383,000 per day and an £8m increase over three years as more people live longer with multiple health conditions and the cost of care placements and home care rise.

With the first Autumn Statement from the new Chancellor on 23 November, Cllr Osman has highlighted key actions that would help Somerset and other local authorities manage their financial pressures:

  • Slow down the phasing out of the Revenue Support Grant for local authorities.
  • Bring forward the release of Better Care Fund money for social care so that it begins in 2017/18.
  • Commit to the transfer of 100 per cent of Business Rates to local authorities and confirm that this will come without additional responsibilities and costs.
  • Allow the permanent use of capital receipts to fund transformational work.
  • Commit to infrastructure development in Somerset.

“This is a new Chancellor making his first Autumn Statement and an ideal opportunity to show that our concerns have been understood,” said Cllr Osman.

“Social care has to be seen for what it is – vital, often urgent support for the most vulnerable people in our communities, just as critical as much of the care provided by colleagues in health. It’s the top priority for our residents.

“But funding hasn’t kept pace with the changing needs of an ageing population. Unless this major, nationwide issue is addressed local authorities are going to find themselves under financial pressures that are increasingly difficult to cope with.

“The actions we highlight are measured and reasonable, but would have a dramatic effect for Somerset and councils across the country over the next few difficult years.”

In 2015/16, Somerset County Council spent £89.2m on adult social care (including support for older people, people with physical disabilities and mental health services) and £42.8m on support for people with learning disabilities.

This year the additional 2 per cent Council Tax ring-fenced for social care introduced in the last Autumn Statement brought in an extra £3.8m. At the same time the introduction of the National Living Wage has cost additional £5.2m.

It is estimated that in the region of 26,000 in Somerset people are living with two or more long-term health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure – an increase of around ten per cent over five years. Managing these conditions requires significant support from social care and health services.

Through the Listening Learning Changing public engagement initiative, for the fourth year running Somerset residents have ranked social care as their top priority for the Council.