Opinion by James Jamieson, leader of Central Bedfordshire Council
Following another “crunch” meeting at Northants County Council, the national press has been full of stories about the challenges local authorities face in funding core services with increasingly reduced funds.
Our core grant from Government which eight years ago represented a third of our funding has been reduced to zero, whilst demand for our services has increased.
Everyone tends to think of the council’s services being those things that we all use and expect, such refuse collection, libraries and street cleaning. These are the things that local people believe they pay for through Council Tax.
Whilst that’s true, it is in fact some of the less visible but equally vital services that put the most pressure on local authorities and council tax payers.
Services such as looking after the 300 children and young people who cannot be cared for by their natural families and for whom the council acts as parents, ensuring they are safe, cared for and supported to fulfil the potential each of them has.
And at the other end of the age spectrum is our growing population of older residents, who are living longer lives with increasingly complex care needs. Whilst many older people live amazingly active and independent lives, the demands on the council to provide care and support to adults who may be vulnerable as well as children are definitely on the up.
The Northamptonshire case has raised the profile of these challenges and the need for a long-term plan to ensure we are able, as a civilised society, to ensure we can safeguard care services.
Funding is key but it’s not the whole story in my view.
There is much we can do by changing the way we work across the health and care system to increase our efficiency and cost effectiveness.
We’ve based our discharge team in hospital to cut down the time people have to wait to leave hospital when they need care after they get home. Working across hospital and social work teams means they can get the right care in place quicker, and it frees up beds faster too.
We’re also taking on Community Wellbeing Champions across the area. They will work alongside existing local Good Neighbour or Village Care schemes and GPs to help people with long-term health conditions who might benefit from non-clinical services. Not only does this cut down pressure on your local doctors’ surgery, it improves wellbeing and reduces loneliness for those people.
It is right that we have a national debate about resourcing of health and care services and I am actively contributing to this at a national level. And its equally important that at a local level we are making sure the way we run and develop our services is always designed to avoid unnecessary spending, eliminate waste and maximise the value of investment for our customers.