FLINTSHIRE councillors have been urged to come forward with ideas for how to reduce the social care budget.
At a meeting of the authority’s health and social care scrutiny committee members were tasked with coming forward with suggestions on savings the department could make before next year’s council budget is set. But no ideas were put forward during the debate.
The council needs to plug a £32m hole before it sets the 2024-25 budget. To date the authority has found £14m through efficiencies and increasing charges, but it still needs to find another £18m to save before early next year.
Councillors were briefed by officers on the expenditure currently affecting the social services budget – such as pay (£14m), social care (£7m), and one of the larger costs being for out of county placements for children in care.
Members were told staff recruitment and retention is still a challenge and could see costs could go up further.
Jane Davies, senior manager for safeguarding and commissioning, said the main factor currently influencing costs in that area is providing the real living wage for staff, which is due to increase from £10.90 to £12 per hour soon while inflation also still remains high.
A major project the authority is working on is a new 56-bed care facility on the site of the former cottage hospital on Cornist Road in Flint.
Dubbed ‘Croes Atti 2’, it will replace the Croes Atti care home on Prince Charles Avenue in the town, as a joint venture between the council and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to increase the number of beds available by 25.
Councillors were told that this is due to open in January 2025 at the earliest, but more bedrooms will mean more staff needing to be hired. It is hoped that construction will start in December or January.
The council is also aiming to increase homecare and develop in-house residential care for looked after children.
As that sector moves to a not-for-profit basis, some current providers might withdraw their services so the council is looking to set up its own children’s homes – but this process could take at least two years.
Northop Cllr Linda Thew (Ind) asked about some of the expenditure.
She said: “I’d like to know how many people we are catering for in out of county placements?”
Officers explained there are 37 children in residential care not provided by the local authority, and 32 children supported by independent fostering agencies.
The out of county budget supports those 69 children every week, and education costs form part of that budget.
Chairing the meeting Buckley Bistre East Cllr Arnold Woolley (Eagle) said he could not see any cost reductions that could be made.
No other committee members came forward with any ideas either, but Cllr Woolley and officers left the door ajar.
“There are occasions in meetings like this that nobody has any lightning bolts of inspiration but then at 2am, something suddenly strikes”, Cllr Woolley said.
“If that happens, please don’t hesitate to scribble it down and put it forward.”
Neil Ayling, chief officer for social services, added that budget setting is still only part way through.
He added: “If there are any areas that we as officers are pointed towards then there is still time to include those in stage three.
“If there are ideas we as a team are open to those coming through at any time so please share.”