The Committee noted the Equality Impact Assessment document provided by Thurrock Coalition to be considered in conjunction with this report.
The Committee learnt that the Council had to save around £37.7 million over three years. £15 million worth of savings had been identified so far but there was a budget gap still to be closed. More savings were needed and these would be brought forward to Cabinet in August and September. The budget calculations were based on a number of assumptions including that a 1% pay increase and increment awards would be given to staff and that council tax would be raised. More specifically, the adult social care budgets had not taken into account any possible additional costs caused by the forthcoming Care Act. It was assumed these would be funded by central government.
The pressures on adult social care were increasing as it was very much demand led and two thirds of the budget was spent on placements.
Members understood the savings were being made as a response to a reduction in local government grants by central government plus an increase in demand for the services. It was also discussed why the savings were only impacting on the year 2015/16 and not on future years. It was explained that the department had endeavoured to put as much savings in the first year as possible and although the savings would be made continually throughout ensuing years, they were only registered as savings when they were taken from the base budget.
Officers clarified that public consultation took the form of online surveys, taking the reports to overview and scrutiny committees but also through formal consultations like the one conducted for the meals on wheels service. The final decision on all budget items would not be taken until February 2015.
Officers stated that the department was a low spend department and to make savings they had focussed on protecting statutory duties, making savings as much as they could through improving procurement and obtaining external funding.
Efficiency in Public Health Commissioning
Councillor Gupta raised concerns that the savings made to a variety of services would decrease the effectiveness of them. Officers replied that all the services were still running and that the efficiencies made (which had reduced the duplication of work among other changes) had actually improved service delivery to residents. For example, in terms of weight management services, the money was being put into projects that provided community activities and support that reached a more diverse base of residents for longer than a twelve week programme. Officers clarified that the ‘other’ category was a sum of money reserved for any projects or issues that the community identified as needing more support. There was potential for this money to bolster one of the services which had been reviewed but officers were confident that the services were performing better and therefore would not require further funding.
Older People Voluntary Sector Contracts
Councillor Gupta felt that this saving needed to be returned to Cabinet for more discussion. He stated that older people, as a section of the population, were increasing and that the majority of the support these organisations provided were vital to the communities they served. Councillor Rice agreed with this view but stated that savings had to be made and if the council did not make savings to these contracts, then the savings would have to be made to other services. Officers suggested that a full impact assessment be made in relation to this item and be brought back to the next meeting.
Learning Disability, Mental Health and Other Third Sector Contracts
The majority of these contracts had been historically funded through the Learning Disability Development Fund. When this had ceased, the Council had continued funding. The proposal was to stop this funding and help the organisations seek external funding sources. With regards to HealthWatch, the proposal was to reduce funding by a third. Officers clarified this reduction by a third affected the entire HealthWatch budget.
It was noted that the reduction in grants would affect numerous cross organisation projects. Officers agreed to provide a breakdown of all the proposed savings for voluntary sector grants so the organisations could see which projects would be affected.
Officers would be reviewing the advocacy service contract as soon as it was up for renewal but added this was a statutory service so would be suitably funded in the future.
The committee agreed that this item required an equality impact assessment, which included effects on the disabled community.
Councillor Key requested that the council look at how to re-model the advocacy and advice services so that savings could be made but also provide a service to those communities that required help. He also felt that Age Concern UK was vitally important to helping older people with living and should be part of the impact assessment.
Officers highlighted that the Council had expanded the voluntary sector in previous years and this should be taken into account.
Savings would be made by deleting one post and re-negotiating the contract for equipment with Essex County Council. The Committee was assured that remaining staff would have the skills to provide a suitable service.
Supported Living Review
This area related to services that had previously been funded under the Supporting People Budget and had been divided into five categories, namely:
· Category 1 – those services that would be stopped.
· Category 2 – those services that would be supported by housing in the future
· Category 3 – those services yet to be decided upon.
· Category 4 – those services that may reduce.
· Category 5 – those services that would continue but may be funded through external or alternative sources.
Within category 1, the services being stopped were the young people’s mediation service (which had received a low uptake in the community), Homeless Prevention Service (this would be covered by a Housing service) and Leaseholders Payment (which was an historic benefit from 2001-2003 that affected a very small number of older people).
Ian Evans added that mental health and housing was a significant issue and it was important that the council ensured appropriate housing for people with mental health issues to reduce suicides and admissions to specialist services.
1. The above comments be noted by Cabinet in future budget considerations.
2. The Equality Impact Assessment provided by Thurrock Coalition be noted in conjunction with this report.
3. Impact assessments would be brought back to the September meeting on the voluntary sector reductions and Categories 3 and 4 under the Supporting People budgets.