Serious social service cuts warning for Blaenau Gwent

SOCIAL services in Blaenau Gwent will freeze recruitment and scale back repairs on residential and day care centres to balance its stretched budget.

Councillors heard last week how Blaenau Gwent’s social services department will overspend on its budget for 2011/2012 by almost £1million, if significant savings are not found between now and the end of the financial year.

Social services’ budget of £35.2million for 2011/2012 already demanded £470,000 in cuts, and the department has made £1.9million in savings over the last four years.

But the budget has been squeezed even further by costs including a rise in the number of older people, the cost of supporting people with learning difficulties, and adoption, leading the council to predict social services will spend £984,762 over its budget by the end of March. The overall figure includes a predicted £1.2million overspend in community care for older people because of an increase in fees for mental health care, and a rising demand for home care.

The situation is described as “serious” and bosses have come up with an action plan to tackle the problem.

Recruitment in the department will be frozen or delayed, the council will only carry out repairs on its residential and day care centres required by law, and money will only be spent on essential services and supplies.

But the council warned that if demand on the department continues or increases, it is unlikely to achieve a balanced budget and the council may have to dip into its savings to cover the cost.

Officers will keep a close watch on the situation over the coming months.

Blaenau Gwent has transformed its social services department over the last eight years, after a 2004 report from the Social Services Inspectorate for Wales revealed a series of failings, particularly its care of vulnerable children.

New management was put in place to improve standards, and by 2007, the authority was praised for its progress in turning the department around.