The cost of adult social care is increasing by £8m to £10m a year. Children’s social care costs are growing by £5m a year. “This is unaffordable and unsustainable.” New and innovative models of delivery must be created to stem growth of costs.
That’s the message from Shropshire Council as it launches a consultation on next year’s budget and seeks to plug a £14m hole in the 2020/21 budget.
Basic council tax will go up by 3.99%. Your council tax bill also includes the police, fire, and town or parish council precept. The West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner is consulting on a 2.94% increase. Fire and Ludlow Town Council precepts are not yet announced. All found we are probably looking at an £80 a year increase for Band D properties. We’ll know more in February.
It is a legal requirement that the council has a balanced budget. It says the plan is to plug the £14m gap “through innovation and transformation to create new models of delivery across the council.” Peter Nutting told BBC Radio Shropshire that new computer systems, which have cost more than £20m, will critical to the savings. There is no doubt that council processes are being made more efficient with better technology but it is not clear the £30m costs savings promised in 2016 will be realised. Every year, the council leader of the day promises new models of delivery. But still the council struggles to get a grip on its costs.
Over the last four years the Council’s net budget has fallen from £216m to £214m. Net budget is the sum available to spend on social care, roads and other projects. It excludes ring fenced funding for schools and grants from central government and the EU. The budget is being further eroded by inflation and rising wage costs. Shirehall is barely fit for purpose but plans for a grandiose upgrade have been put on hold indefinitely.
Four years ago, 55% of the net budget was funded by council tax (£119m) but by 2019/20 that had grown to 72% (£154m). The amount by which council tax rise is capped by the government. A 4% rise will raise under £6m. The council could hold a referendum on a bigger rise. That would be costly and the Tories are not going to risk a referendum ahead of the May 2021 local elections.
That’s a result of the Tory government failing to get a grip on the costs of adult social care (remember Theresa May’s “dementia tax”). Adult and child social care costs have increased from 44% to 62% of the council’s net budget, an additional £37m, over the last four years.
The Local Government Finance Bill disappeared with trace as Brexit consumed Theresa May’s government. Ministers have shown a complete disinterest in funding local government for years. The Fairer Funding Review, which could have given more money to counties like Shropshire under sparsity criteria, looks to have stalled.
There are a lot of politics in the way Shropshire Council is funded. If we had some marginal seats with Labour or Lib Dems barking at the heels of the Tories, money would come our way. Instead we have rock solid Tory MPs so there is no need to divert money from Boris Johnson’s priorities of retaining the northern seats he won in the last election. Our Tory MPs have got the county a few extra millions. We would have got more and would get more if they were in danger of losing their seats.
Everyone in local government is hoping that Sajid Javid’s promised give away budget on 17 March will give more money for local government. Don’t bank on it. If he gave local government an extra 10% it would be lucky to make a footnote in the Financial Times. His budget will be populist. he and Boris want headlines.
We have yet to get details of the financial settlement for Shropshire for 2020/21 from Whitehall mandarins. That was delayed by the general election. Maybe that will give Shropshire more money. I am not holding my breath.