A financial storm of unprecedented severity is threatening to derail Birmingham City Council’s ambitious attempts to modernise adult social care.
The adults and communities department is heading for an £8 million year-end overspend, but pressures on individual budgets and the steady growth of the city’s elderly population is likely to make matters much worse.
The slow pace of a transformation scheme – where the council will move from being an all-encompassing provider of care to commissioning services for older people from the independent and voluntary sectors – is beginning to give the impression that pledges of vastly-improved choice and standards will not be met, a senior city councillor has warned.
Len Clark, who chairs the adults and communities scrutiny committee, forecast that planned savings of £500 million from a ten-year business transformation programme, which were proving difficult to attain, would in any case be wiped out by the growing financial pressures on social services.
The list of problems facing the department include:
n An unexpected £9 million bill for continuing to run old people’s homes after closure plans were set back by plummeting land values.
n A £10 million overspend in the budget for looking after adults with learning difficulties.
n A £2 million overspend in the budgets for looking after adults with physical disabilities and mental health problems.
In addition to that, independent research conducted for the city suggests that if the council continues to attempt to meet demand for older people’s services itself it will need to find an extra £300 million over the next ten years.
The only answer, according to social services directors, is to allocate customers individual budgets based on their needs and “signpost” them to independent and voluntary sector providers.
Coun Clark (Con Quinton) said the switch away from direct council provision of services had been talked about for years but little progress had been made. It was becoming increasingly obvious, he added, that there was insufficient independent and voluntary sector provision in Birmingham at the moment to meet demand.
He added: “The pressures on budgets are more than offsetting any cashable benefits that may derive from business transformation.
“If we allow people to exercise choice because we have given them individual budgets but then there are no providers there for them to choose from, we risk putting people in worse circumstances than they are in.
“We want to see a change in the quality of service delivery for people we represent but grand plans on their own mean very little. We continue to offer obsolete service models and have been for 30 or 40 years because we are frightened of the consequences of stopping doing it.”