Care cuts debated

CUTS to care services will not be avoided by dipping into reserves, a county council committee has decided.

With service cuts in the public eye throughout the country, West Sussex County Council had been asked to use its emergency reserves to maintain current social care spending.

However, the idea has been rejected by the adults’ services select committee.

The committee had met to consider the impact of the decision to stop providing financial support for people with ‘moderate’ social care needs, and focus on those with ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ needs.

Horsham-based councillor Peter Catchpole (Con, Holbrook), cabinet member for adults’ services, said that when the budget was decided the reserves were set at around three per cent, which the auditor said was a prudent and reasonable level.

“If they are used for other services they are gone,” he said.

“If we have to make further savings, we are in a worse financial position.

“If we have a hard winter, or another disaster, there would be no money to deal with this and we would have to borrow - and pay for doing so.”

Brenda Smith (Lab, Langley Green) agreed that reserves were being saved for a rainy day.

“But some people feel they are going through a thunderstorm right now,” she added.

“Quality of life has to be of prime importance - we are talking about people.”

Bob Smytherman (Lib Dem, Tarring) said members should accept this was not a very good decision, at a time when they were increasing the amount of money in reserves, for a rainy day.

“This is very creditable, but it is raining now for an awful lot of people,” he said.

Committee members paid tribute to the high quality of assessment work being undertaken by social workers, although this has meant that the process is taking longer than originally expected.

Nearly 2,000 reassessments have been started so far - out of 4,500 to be done - and nearly 1,600 have been completed.

Jenny Daniels, head of health and social care practice, said social workers were taking longer with customers to explain changes and to talk about alternative services where customers were no longer eligible.

They knew 12 per cent of older people were no longer eligible, and 18 per cent of those with a learning disability.

Fifty-four per cent will get a reduced package of care, and 18 per cent will get an increase in their package.

So far, only 13 people have appealed against their new allocation.

“We believe the quality of work our social workforce has been undertaking has been reflected in this number of appeals,” said Ms Daniels.

Howard Bloom (Con, Southgate and Crawley Central) said reassessments had been done in a very professional way.

He took comfort from the fact that there had only been 13 appeals, although everyone had been told that if they were unhappy they could appeal.

The select committee supported the approach being taken.

However, while accepting that the work was taking longer, there was concern about the effect on people waiting for reassessments.

It also called for a detailed report to be brought back in nine months’ time.

The budget cuts were agreed in March, and went ahead despite a prominent campaign calling for the council to re-think them.

The county council expects to save £79m over three years, with £31m coming from adult social services.