Members of The Highland Council’s Housing and Social Work Committee are being advised that the projected overspend in the Social Work budget can be eased by continuing management action and an injection of funding from central Council funds to meet the additional costs borne by the Social Work budget associated with job evaluation.
In a report to committee, Harriet Dempster, Director of Social Work, sets out the actions under way as part of a budget recovery plan, factors working against an improved position and corrective actions being undertaken to mitigate these.
Good progress was being made on reducing travel costs and overtime, managing absence and robust management of vacancies. However, the monitoring position for the Social Work Service for the first six months of the financial year indicated a projected overspend of £3.913 million at the year end, with a continuing major pressure on the budget being the impact of meeting the costs of job evaluation, which had seen an upgrading of care at home staff. Other budget pressures related to delayed discharge and free personal care as well as emergency placements of looked after children in independent sector units within Highland.
Ms Dempster said The Highland Council was not the only Council in Scotland experiencing Social Work budget pressures.
She stated: “Although the overall position has not improved, there are signs that measures in some areas are beginning to have a positive impact. These measures will continue to be implemented robustly.”
A further report to the next meeting of the Housing and Social Work Committee in January, next year, would confirm the additional costs associated with job evaluation and modernisation. At that time, members could consider whether additional resources could be made available to cover this in the current and future years.
In a separate report, Ms Dempster acknowledges the Council’s commitment and positive track record on the implementation of free personal and nursing care. She advises members about the recently issued guidance on the national framework of eligibility criteria and waiting times for free personal and nursing care. This seeks a commitment to deliver personal and nursing care services to older people within a maximum period of six weeks following the indentification of need.
Free personal and nursing care, as services to people in their own homes area, was delivered free without financial assessment. Approximately 80% of all care at home was now free personal care.
The Council was, however, supporting 411 people in care homes with free personal and nursing care allowances at an estimated cost of £3,669,000 per year.
She said meeting the requirements of the new guidance would place a further burden on the already overstretched budget. Funding 18 people on the waiting list would cost £150,000 in this financial year, with a full year effect of £300,000. There would be continuing assessments to determine eligibility for free personal and nursing care.
She concluded her report by stating: “Although the guidance is very welcome, it does present the Council with some challenges, including financial challenges.”