Council care homes under threat in Rotherham as authority struggles to meet spending targets

Uncertain future: Lord Hardy Court in Rawmarsh is one of Rotherham Council's care homes

All Rotherham’s council run care homes could close under money saving proposals as the authority attempts to close huge gaps which have appeared in this year’s finances – though senior officers insist no decisions have yet been taken.

Several council departments are now predicting massive overspends by the end of the financial year, including children and young people’s services where spending could outstrip available cash by £13m unless action is taken.

Another shortfall of more than £6m is predicted in adult care and housing and one option to help close that gap would be to “decommission” the council’s care homes, leaving residents with an uncertain future – though the council is committed to introducing a new ‘intermediate care’ package should that happen.

The suggestion will be put to members of the council’s ruling cabinet and the commissioners which still oversee its work at a meeting on Monday, where a review of the authority’s financial performance in the first quarter of the year will take place.

Part of the problem is put down to delays in projects designed to save money kicking in, but the background is that the council has been forced to make huge savings every years since austerity started to bite.

Council bosses already know they have to find another £30m in savings over the next two years, so if the books don’t balance this year, future challenges will become harder to meet.

Monday’s meeting will be told the delays in making expected savings in the adult care and housing department is down mainly to “the complexity, rather than the volume of new cases....as the overall customer base has been relatively static.”

It also blames a historic “over reliance on residential care, poor application of self-directed support and over provision of care hours”.

To try to control spending on adult care, the meeting will hear, “a suite of high level project plans have been developed to address the savings challenge”.

They include “the decommissioning of in-house residential homes which will include the re-provision of an intermediate care offer.”

The council has five care homes across the borough.

The council has already made a decision to close its day care centres for those with learning disabilities, a move designed to modernise the service but which will also save the authority £3m.

However, that has provoked widespread resistance, with more than 70,000 people signing a petition against the change and legal action now planned to challenge the council’s stance.

In addition to expecting council departments to make their budgets add up, the authority is also looking at selling off buildings it no longer needs and using the money to support day to day spending – something which historically has not been allowed because money raised that way can be spent only once, leaving a gap to be filled in future years.

The biggest spending gap exists in the children’s and young people’s services department, with a gap of more than £13m expected for the year, a figure which has been growing because the council expects to be dealing with more children in care and those needing help and protection.

According to the report, demand is “significantly high” compared to both neighbouring authorities and those of a similar complexion elsewhere in the country.

The authority now has 649 children in care, a rise of 33 since April, with numbers rising by 21 in July alone.

Some of the demand is put down to the consequences of Operation Stovewood, the investigation into historic child sexual exploitation in the district, but increased costs are also attributed to the council’s responsibilities in assisting those who leave local authority care as adults.

One tactic to help tackle the costs is the introduction of a ‘Right Child, Right Care’ programme for some, with the aim of getting some youngsters back living with their families. In time, that could save £7.5m a year as well as providing better prospects for those involved, though this year savings are being costed at £2m.

Despite the problems, the council is expecting its books to balance at the end of March next year, though councillors are being warned: “However to any extent that planned savings are not delivered and a balanced budget cannot be maintained for 2018/19, there will be an impact on the council’s reserves.

“With the current financial climate, effective and careful use of reserves is ever more critical to the council’s ability to maintain a robust balanced budget.”

Anne Marie Lubanski, Strategic Director of Adult Care, Housing and Public Health at Rotherham Council, said: “Adult Social Care services across the country are facing unprecedented challenges - this is no different in Rotherham and these challenges are leaving us with difficult budget decisions.  

“We are working with partners to explore all of our options in terms of how we make best use of our intermediate care and residential beds, and provide the people of Rotherham with effective discharge services that meet the needs of each individual.

“No decisions have been taken about the implications of this for the future of specific buildings at this stage. As part of our ‘home first’ initiative it’s important that residents get a better experience and, where appropriate, are supported to return home from hospital as quickly and safely as possible.” 

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