Dumfries & Galloway Council social work budget blow

SOCIAL work chiefs have admitted defeat in trying to get a spiralling budget under control. The council department has seen its overspend rise from a reported £1.5million last August to £2.25million in February.

The rises have angered some councillors leading to accusations that officials in the authority had a “lack of control”.

And yesterday the elected members heard that by the end of February the overspend was up again – forecasted at £2.6million.

The final closing figure for the 2007/08 year has yet to be confirmed, but it could well be even higher.

Action is now being taken to change the way the department works in a bid to contain spending.

Department director John Alexander told a social work services committee that a series of cost-reduction measures since last August hadn’t reigned in the overspend.

He admitted: “Taking all activity during 2008/09 into account, it is clear that, despite diligent testing work by frontline staff and their operational managers aimed at bringing expenditure into alignment with available budget, the forecast outturn has remained over budget and has continued to rise steadily throughout 2008/09.”

Mr Alexander said Dumfries and Galloway’s social services cost pressure are similar to others in Scotland and he put the blame down to mainly rises in spending on social work and care services.

The largest proportion, he says, is 47 per cent on older people.

“Clearly the budget challenge remains and is likely to become greater in future as the level of resources available to the council in future years is in some doubt and the level of need in the population continues to grow,” he told councillors.

Yesterday members of the committee endorsed a list of actions aimed at changing the way the department operates in a bid to drive down costs.

Mr Alexander explained: “Ultimately, the vision we seek is of a social work service which intervenes earlier to meet a wider range of need and makes a significant contribution, without having all the answers, to better outcomes for the most vulnerable citizens of Dumfries and Galloway.

“This would be done as part of a wider alliance of contributors, embracing the statutory, voluntary and community sectors.”