Reduced local government staff numbers, austerity measures, and significantly reduced funding can put local residents in potentially life-threatening situations. Maintaining critical level output is crucial. Here’s how austerity is affecting councils and how they’re responding…
Central government cuts in real terms funding for local authorities – 1.7% over the next four years – are leading to job losses across non-statutory services. Local authorities in England and Wales are not just facing a funding gap of £10 billion but will also have extra unfunded costs of £9.9 billion by 2019/20 to cover inflation and care services as demands rise because of the growing number of older people.
New government policies that affect councils will cost £6.3 billion by the end of the parliament – for example, a change in the rules making starter homes exempt from council charges could set local authorities back by £3 billion by the end of the decade. And a Local Government Association survey of 152 local authorities found that just 7% of councils felt they had the influence and funding they needed to support 16- to 18-year-olds.
Leeds City Council, for example, will have an £87 million funding gap in 2016/17, with £25 million less to spend on public health. Social housing rents will also go down and the council will have to reduce its staffing by losing 259 full-time equivalent positions. It, like other councils, will also start paying employees the real living wage of a minimum of £8.01 per hour from April 2016 adding to its costs.
How will this affect services?
As local authority heads of services try to deal with the funding cuts, the impact on vulnerable groups and communities could be devastating; there could be fewer opportunities, a lack of social justice and a rise in anti-social behaviour and loneliness in old age as the family and social networks break up. And short-term cuts alone could have a long-term impact on local communities that councils don’t even know about yet.
But councils still have a responsibility to meet the needs of local people, particularly vulnerable groups, children at risk, young and older people.
What are you doing to minimise risks and still provide critical services?
Doing joint risk assessments to look at the impact cuts could have on social and community issues and that involve a range of organisations, like the council, NHS and other public agencies is a good way of finding out how to better organise services to meet local needs. And investing money in a different way of working, moving towards partnerships with others and taking advantage of new technology can offset cuts, help you provide vital services more effectively and increase public confidence.
Responding to the cuts, Leeds City Council is putting services for vulnerable the young and older people at the top of its priority list. But the way it works will now have to be more commercial.
Leeds City councillor Judith Blake said: “The difficulty we now face is that with less and less government funding, council tax and other funding streams open to us have to be stretched further and further and even with the new social care precept we still have a significant gap in our public health and social care budgets which is a major concern. The council simply cannot continue to operate the way it has traditionally as the resource is no longer there, so we need to look at new ways of delivering services or helping people to help themselves, be that through working differently with partners or making the most of new innovations and technology.”
Are you ready to look at new ways of working?
Technology, such as cloud-based computing offering email, apps and networks as well as the facility to pool resources through mobile phones, tablets and other devices, can help you communicate better with other agencies and work in partnership to provide key services more efficiently and cost-effectively. Many local authorities are already using this kind of technology.
Hampshire County Council social workers will be able to get information about the background of a child, such as school attendance records, family details and notes made by different teams, from one resource thanks to new computer software that allows information to be shared. The One Social Care service also displays referrals and can automatically send a message to social workers if a child is excluded from school or misses a class. Issues can also be ‘de-escalated’ so that expensive interventions can be avoided.
Meanwhile, Leeds City Council and Calderdale Council got together to create a new database to help provide vulnerable residents in Leeds with more effective support. Through the system the city’s social workers can collect, store and manage information about their residents, see what decisions and action other agencies have taken and pick up any concerns. This integrated approach particularly helps vulnerable residents in remote areas.
Councillor Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for health, wellbeing and adults, said: “Demand for adult social care is increasing at a time when resources are more and more stretched, meaning it is vital that we find ways to work more efficiently so we can continue to effectively support vulnerable adults. Working with our colleagues in Calderdale to develop joint solutions is another great example of this.”
“This new software,” she added, “will mean our social workers will have the important information they need at their fingertips which will allow them to respond better and faster to the needs of the people they work with.”
A pilot scheme involving Cambridgeshire County Council and Central Bedfordshire Council provided 30 people over the age of 70 who did not feel confident about using information technology with a simplified Facebook-style app. It meant they could stay in touch with family and helped reduce their feelings of loneliness.
And in education, Hertfordshire County Council moved applications for secondary school admissions and free school meals online allowing it to get away from paper-based application processes. It was able to reduce red tape, drive down costs and improve services for parents and carers.
The Department for Communities and Local Government found councils that went digital saw average savings rise from £1.1 million to £1.4 million over 2015. Local government minister Kris Hopkins said: “Can do councils have led the way by proving that hundreds of millions of pounds can be saved every single year just by waking up to the digital dawn.”