Despite already making significant savings, B&NES Council has said it will have to make difficult financial decisions over the coming years as it seeks to continue to balance its budget.
Almost three quarters of all councils in England that deliver social care are struggling to balance their budgets, and are overspending, and most have already made stringent cuts to key frontline services.
Bath & North East Somerset Council has managed to avoid this so far, whilst continuing to be regarded as a ‘good’ authority in key areas by independent inspectors.
Cllr Charles Gerrish (Conservative, Keynsham North) Cabinet Member for Finance & Efficiency, said: “In the last financial year all councils have faced a massive rise in demand for adult social care and children’s services. In Bath & North East Somerset currently 75 pence out of every pound in the Council’s budget is spent on adult social care and children’s services.
“We predict this will rise to a minimum of 80 pence in every pound by the end of the year and could rise higher. Our community expects us to prioritise support for vulnerable people; this means all our other services will have to be funded from what’s left.
“This will be extremely challenging, but we still aim to deliver high quality services into the future.
“We are continuing to scrutinise our spending and transform the way we do things to save money, but we also need to work together with the local community and encourage those who live and work here to play their part.
“It is in everyone’s interest that services are provided to those who most need them and local people have a vital role to play in ensuring the money the Council has to spend on services goes further. Everyone can help be it through recycling, helping neighbours and family or by volunteering.”
Demand for services and costs are rapidly rising, while the grant received from the Government continues to reduce. This is happening as part of the effort to reduce the national deficit. Councils are now seeking to replace lost grant funding with money from the Business Rates growth, New Homes Bonus, commercial income and further efficiencies, but also to prioritise expenditure.
The Council needs to save a further £16.2m by April 2020. This is on top of the £14.8m worth of savings already planned over the same period. The £14.8m of savings are part of a successful 4 year programme (2016-2020) to achieve £42m of savings including an extra £7m from commercial and trading income.
The challenge ahead is unprecedented in local government and for B&NES Council. Even after the next two years, there will be more to do. This demands ‘radical’ solutions because the savings already made or planned mean that there are no “easy” options and the Council will not be able to do everything that it currently does.
The population of Bath & North East Somerset is growing; by 2020 it will have risen by 4% from 2016 as a result of 5,500 new homes and increasingly longer life spans. The population is also changing and as people live longer they are often living with one or more long-term conditions requiring help and support, meaning the Council has to arrange and deliver increasingly complex packages of care. This trend is set to continue.
The Council has to make further changes so it can still cover the growing demand and rising costs for things like children’s safeguarding, services for adults with learning disabilities and children with special educational needs, for which the authority has a primary statutory responsibility.
On top of this, external pressures have caused a number of care home closures leading to them having to find alternative and often more expensive placements for the vulnerable residents affected.
This year’s budget is also under pressure. The demand for children’s services and adult social care has already increased above that budgeted for and is part of the future pressure outlined above.
By the planned use of ‘one-off’ funds and careful financial arrangements B&NES Council will be able to manage for this year. The remaining budgets are predicted to perform to around 1% of their target.
Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet is being asked to approve an updated 5 year financial plan.
The new plan will include a review of priorities to look at whether further savings can be made, targeting capital spending to priority areas, maximising contract savings and income opportunities, reviewing the options for additional shared services and more closely managing demand in their “demand-led” services such as children and adult care. If approved the plan will be reviewed annually.
Councillor Andrew Furse (Lib Dem, Kingsmead) commented: “Whichever way it is sliced, Conservatives are clearly not able to plan their budgets either nationally or locally.
“Residents in B&NES are being softened up for a shocker of a cut in services and increase in council tax next February due to local mismanagement of children’s services and adult social care budgets.
“After being warned against wasting money on the East of Bath park and ride, and further money on ill thought through library service changes, they now realise they have difficulty in balancing their budgets.
“Clearly local Conservatives running B&NES have no friends in Westminster. Much of this tough financial climate is of their own making.
“Adult social care is in financial trouble through the failure of Conservatives to properly plan for growing adult social services and stopping closure of care homes.”
Bath & North East Somerset Council says it has a good track record of managing to live within its means, by:
- Reducing its estate (buildings and offices);
- Proposing new ways to deliver services, rather than cutting them;
- Promoting flexi-working, such as home working;
- Improving technology to streamline operations;
- Reducing overheads with innovative, eco-friendly new offices at Keynsham;
- Working closely with other authorities to share services;
- Supporting the new West of England authority which is bringing significant investment to the district;
- Increasing income;
- Successfully bidding for grants.
The Council also says it has a good reputation for delivering services, for example:
- 65% of people are happy with the way the Council runs services – an increase on previous years;
- The Council has secured investment of £10m into Keynsham Leisure Centre;
- It has also secured investment of £10.8m into Bath Leisure Centre;
- They are delivering against £70m of West of England investment in the Bath & Somer Valley Enterprise Zone which will deliver up to 9,000 local jobs including:
- £36m to facilitate the delivery of Bath Quays and up to 20,000sqm of new modern office space;
- £10m on flood mitigation and enabling infrastructure for Bath Western Riverside which will deliver over 2,000 new homes;
- £18.5m for new and expanded primary school provision;
- 95% of families get their preferred primary school places;
- Secured over £6m worth on investment from the West of England to improve adult skills and local infrastructure;
- Children’s Services rated as “Good”;
- Adoption Services are rated as “Outstanding”;
- Rehabilitation services have helped 9 out of 10 older people leaving hospital to still be at home 3 months after discharge.
The Council leadership will be bringing together information on the challenges faced and will be lobbying Government to address some of the pressures faced particularly in Adult Care and Children’s Services given their track record as a well-run Council that has lived within its means.
The Council wants to hear local people’s views on how best the authority can balance its budget, to ensure it continues to protect the most vulnerable in while investing for the future.
Alternatively share your ideas at one of the Council’s Forums in November/December:
- 15th Nov – Freshford Village Memorial Hall, 6pm;
- 22nd Nov – The Kaposvar Room, Guildhall, Bath, 6pm;
- 27th Nov – Council Chamber, Guildhall, Bath, 6pm;
- 29th Nov – Midsomer Norton Town Hall (TBC), 6pm;
- 30th Nov – Community Space, Keynsham, 6:30pm;
- 4th Dec – Chew Valley School, Chew Magna, 6pm.
For more details, take a look at the Cabinet agenda papers, available via the Council’s website: https://democracy.bathnes.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=122&MId=4653.