Harrow Council has urged the government to ‘fix adult social care’ as a growing demand has meant spiralling costs. Conservative-run Harrow said local authorities are ‘running out of road’ to plug the financial hole and without help more and more council’s risk going bankrupt over the next few years.
A consultation on Harrow’s draft budget for next year is currently underway, which, when approved, will shape how the council spends taxpayers’ money next year. Alongside the managing director, Alex Dewsnap, council leader, Cllr Paul Osborn, sounded the alarm for adult social care during a Q&A session at a recent overview and scrutiny committee (January 9).
Cllr Osborn highlighted the ‘massive pressures’ in adult services, with millions of pounds of extra money having been put into the sector to tackle the problem. However, an ageing population and more people needing to use the service has meant this is becoming a ‘real stretch’.
He said: “It is becoming an increasingly larger part of the council’s budget, something that’s been going on for a long, long time. Eventually you run out of road in this and whoever is in power nationally needs to fix adult social care.”
He added: “It is a massive problem for all council’s across the country and, if it’s not addressed, we will see a lot of council’s going into Section 114 notices [which essentially declares themselves bankrupt] just because of that pressure and the pressure on homelessness.”
Funding for the sector comes from central government grants, which can be squeezed, and from local revenue-raising mechanisms such as council tax – which is again set to rise by 4.99 per cent in Harrow.
The grants are currently assigned based on short-term agreements, usually annually, however, Cllr Osborn is calling for multi-year settlements, to cover three or four years, so the council can plan accordingly for the longer term. He said: “When you don’t know it makes broad planning very challenging.”
He added: “This can’t continue the way it’s going. You are seeing council after council flagging this up as an issue. You are seeing massive lobbying by the Local Government Association (LGA) on that. And, historically, outer London and Harrow do very badly in the revenue support grant from the government.”
Cllr Osborn also called for a ‘rebalancing of the funding’ across London as, compared with inner London boroughs, Harrow receives tens of millions of pounds less in support grants. He claims this support means they are able to charge residents less for council tax.
Much of the central government grants are earmarked so it must be spent for a specific purpose or project. Mr Dewsnap is calling for council’s to have greater autonomy to spend the funding as is needed. He said: “There is billions of public money that is being spent in Harrow each year, we only spend part of it.”
He added: “I would look […] for greater devolution to local government to have more of a role in actually making the decisions that make a big difference to local residents. It would, therefore, mean that we had more resources to shift to the things that matter the most to residents. At the moment we have a small amount of that particularly large pie.”
This was echoed by Cllr Osborn, who also pointed out that most of the council’s money currently comes from council tax and wants more sources of revenue made available to the council, such as a hotel tax across London.
He said: “There’s going to be a package that London council’s […] will put to all political parties as they draw up their manifestos for the general election [detailing] what London would like to see.”