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Wrexham: Councillors to discuss soaring social care budget

LEVELS of child poverty in Wrexham have ‘increased significantly’ according to a report to councillors.

Wrexham Council’s spend on social care has almost doubled within the last five years, more than twice the rate of inflation.

An increasing number of children being placed into local authority care, and an ageing population is contributing to the spiralling costs.

In five years the number of children ‘looked after’ by Wrexham Council increased from 255 in April 2018 to 352 in March this year.

The council was providing 4,993 hours per week of social care to adults in April 2018. But by March this year the total was 5,920.

On Wednesday councillors on the authority’s safeguarding, communities and wellbeing committee will discuss the social care budget.

It comes at a time every department at the council is having to make savings to reduce a predicted in-year overall budget hole of £23m.

Increasing “levels of child poverty in Wrexham”, and struggles related to the Covid pandemic are cited as reasons for an increase in department spending in the budget report.

According to the report, between the 2018/19 financial year and 2022/23 financial year the collective net expenditure in social care increased from £57.7million to £86.4 million.

In this period children’s services net expenditure increased from £15.8 million to £38.1 million and Adult Services net expenditure increased from £41.9 million to £48.3 million.

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The overall net expenditure increase is a 49.7 per cent increase year on year. This compares to normal inflation increase and pay inflation during this period of 19.8 per cent.

Social care and children’s care spending has long been a financial strain on the council, with effort being made by the authority to develop its own staff rather than relying on agency workers.

Speaking at a media briefing in the summer, council leader Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) said: “All the authorities across Wales are struggling to recruit and sometimes retain in social care.

“There’s the pressure of the job and the payments across the border.

“We’re 12 miles from Chester, the M53 and M56, Liverpool and Manchester are only down the road, Cheshire – they pay a lot more in salary than we do.

“There are some authorities paying £6,000 more than what some authorities are paying in North Wales and we can’t compete with that, so we ‘grow our own’, invest in the process and bring our own staff through.”

Chief executive Ian Bancroft added: “We’ve done lots of work in social care around increasing pay rates, growing our own and making sure we retain staff.”

But paying for agency staff is still an issue.

The report says: “The core reasons for increases in children’s services are increases in the number of staff required to support an increasing caseload, the level of those staff who were and are employed through an agency and the increase cost of placements during this time.

“Additionally the number of children requiring specialised education placements have increased at a significant cost.

“The core reasons for increase in expenditure in adult services during this time are associated with demographic changes. Namely this means more older people and more people with disabilities requiring support from services.”

But the report does outline the steps being taken to try to reduce the spending.

In children’s services these include:

  • Reducing the number of agency staff employed and where possible reducing and altering the overall staff mix.
  • Reducing the number and overall cost of placements with a focus on reducing high-cost placements by both discharging the care of some children and delivering more care closer to Wrexham.
  • Utilising grant underspends where appropriate to support overall budgetary position.

In adult services, the efforts made to save money are focusing on:

  • Increased income generated through revaluations of properties and resolving Court of Protection matters.
  • Utilising grant underspends where appropriate to support overall budgetary position.
  • ‘Rightsizing and reducing care provision across all areas.
  • Vacancy management.

Councillors will meet to discuss the report on Wednesday (September 13).