Nursing home owners are at the centre of an extraordinary mix-up over claims that Birmingham City Council is cutting the amount of money it pays for infirm elderly people to be looked after in private sector residential care.

The Birmingham Care Consortium, representing most city privately-run homes, accused council bosses of helping to plug a £10 million social services overspend through a three per cent reduction in fees in April, followed by a further four years of zero increases in local authority payments. The result, BCC say, would be “financial suicide” forcing many homes out of business.

But the council says the consortium has misunderstood what is happening and that it will not cut fees. A spokeswoman said BCC was told a week ago that private home owners would not have to meet the three per cent efficiency savings expected to be made by all council departments in the next year. Any increase in Government grant would be passed on to homes in the form of higher weekly payments, the council said.

BCC’s claim arose from a meeting with social services officials on December 22. The organisation accused the council of “unsustainable and unreasonable” tactics and is urging members not to sign new contracts – raising fears that the council will be unable to find enough care beds for frail elderly people. The tough stance is supported by West Midlands Care Homes Association, Birmingham Jewish Community Care, Bournville Village Trust, and Birmingham Charities for Elderly.

BCC secretary Les Latchman said: “Everyone who was at the meeting believed that a cut in fees was being proposed.”