Cuts fears on care costs as WLGA urges radical debate
A call has been made for a “radical debate” on the future of adult social care funding amid fears its budget will squeeze out other council services.
Steve Thomas of the Welsh Local Government Association said the UK government needed to tackle the issue.
The Local Government Association (LGA) – representing councils in Wales and England – warns money for services like leisure could shrink by 90% by 2020.
The Welsh government said it was working to prepare for reduced budgets.
It says the drop could follow as costs in areas like social services rise.
Welsh councils, which are funded by the Welsh government, perform more 700 functions, some of which are required by law, such as education, waste collection and social services.
But in a report the LGA claims the cost of providing those legally-required services will soak up almost all of the local authorities’ available cash by 2020.
It said the result will be that funding for other non-statutory council services, like road maintenance, libraries and leisure centres, will shrink by up to 90%.
It called for an “immediate injection” of money into the adult care system to meet rising demand in the short term, alongside a major revision of the way it is paid for and delivered in future.
Mr Thomas, chief executive of the WLGA, said the UK government was avoiding addressing the problem.
He pointed out that although the LGA report focused on English councils, its message also applied to Wales.
He said that the research showed that in England at least the social care budget will pass 45% of council spending in 2019-20, “which is a huge amount of money and a huge proportion of the council budget”.
“I think the challenge set out in this report actually shows that some of the service provision that we have got, unless we have a radical debate about in the way we deliver this and public expectations about this, will not be sustainable in the future,” Mr Thomas added.
“The issues around social care, around waste, are big issues which need debating.”
Local government consultant Jeff Jones said the report highlighted the fact that new ways of funding some council services, like adult social care, should be looked at.
He suggested that councils stop funding adult social care and that it should instead be covered by the health budget.
Gwynedd council leader Dyfed Edwards admitted an important discussion was needed about the services local authorities should be providing the public.
He said that “one Monday morning people are going to wake up and find their local leisure centre shut” unless a serious debate takes place on the future financing of these services.
He suggested partnerships with other bodies should be investigated, for instance.
A Welsh government spokesman said: “In Wales we have been working with partners for some time to prepare for reducing budgets and are well ahead of England.
“The report calls for a more explicit partnership between central and local government.
“In Wales the Welsh government and local government have an agreed set of reforms aimed at improving and protecting services, and achieving efficiencies.”