Extra money to tackle Norfolk's social care pressures - but government accused of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul', while people's council tax could rise by up to £50 a year.
PUBLISHED: 17:43 15 December 2016 | UPDATED: 17:48 15 December 2016
The government is 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' by taking money away from district councils to plug a black hole on the cost of social care, critics have claimed.
And people in Norfolk could find themselves having to pay between £30 and £50 more on their council tax bills next year, if county councillors do decide to take advantage of the ability to increase its precept to pay for adult social care.
Councils discovered today what level of funding they will get from central government in the years ahead.
And communities secretary Sajid Javid announced some £241m of money which district, borough and city councils could have received through the New Homes Bonus for getting housing built, is to be diverted to councils which pay for social care, including Norfolk and Suffolk county councils.
That means Norfolk County Council will get an extra £4.2m next year to help with a service which has a projected £8m overspend next year.
And the authority could yet choose to increase the currently proposed 3.8pc council tax increase by a further 1pc to bring in another £3.3m specifically for social care.
Cliff Jordan, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “We are pleased the government has acknowledged that there is a need for additional funding, and we are grateful in particular for the one-off grant.
“It’s a start - but in our opinion it is only a start and there needs to be more money in future years.
“We don’t want to pass the burden on to hard-pressed council tax payers – particularly those whom the government themselves identified as ‘just about managing’, but of all the areas Norfolk County Council has responsibility for, adult social services is most at mercy of a need over which we have no control – and it’s a need which grows every year.”
He said the number of people aged 85 or over in Norfolk is increasing at one of the fastest rates in the country and meeting the increased need next year would cost more than £6m.
Jo Miller, president of Solace, which represents chief executives across the country said: “Taking money from the New Homes Bonus may alleviate short term pressures, but simply robbing Peter to pay Paul will not tackle a systemic funding problem.” John Fuller, Conservative leader of South Norfolk Council said the settlement meant his council’s spending power would be reduced by 14pc, while Norfolk’s would go up by just over 2pc.
He said of the New Homes Bonus money redistribution to pay for social care; “This is not a solution, but a short-term fix. Clearly addressing the adult social care needs a national effort and we all need to do our bit.
“But the effects of the Living Wage alone will eat into that money and there needs to be a national debate over the relationship between health and social care.
“This announcement buys the government time to do that, but there needs to be a decision about whether adult social care remains within the roles of councils or is transferred to the health service.”
Brian Long, Conservative leader of West Norfolk Borough Council, said: “Taking money from district councils by making changes to the New Homes Bonus and giving it to county councils to pay for social care will have a financial impact.
“But this is not new information: a consultation document outlining these changes was issued this time last year, and we have prepared for them.
“Our financial plan, which covers up until 2019/2020, incorporated our assumptions that the New Homes Bonus would change, based on the consultation document.”
And Alan Waters, Labour leader of Norwich City Council, said City Hall would actually be slightly better off than had been anticipated, but agreed the social care issue needed to be tackled by the government with a long-term solution.
‘A gutless stealth tax’
The potential council tax increase was branded as “a gutless stealth tax” by Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.
The Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said: “This social care tax rise is a gutless stealth tax rise that has been created by the Government but left to councils to shake down the poorest in society for more cash.
“Letting councils put up taxes will raise some money in some areas - but we face a national crisis. This isn’t about councils’ being able to supplement essential care, it is about providing it and that needs proper funding from central government.”
Downing Street insisted money was not a “silver bullet” but that reform of how certain local authorities provide care is needed, including “much closer uniformity of standards”.
A Number 10 spokesman said work was ongoing to find a long-term solution and would be set out “in due course”.
He said: “There are huge differences between local authorities in terms of the social care provision that they are able to provide.
“There’s a 20-fold difference between the best and worst performing areas but there isn’t a 20-fold difference in funding.
“So money is one part of the problem. There is also an issue of actually how local authorities provide these services.”