Top North Yorkshire councillor’s candid warning on £340m challenges facing the care sector in Harrogate and county
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In a revealing set of comments, Coun Michael Harrison admitted costs had risen dramatically in recent years with nearly half of all the council’s revenue budget now spent on adult social care – more than £340 million this year.
The Harrogate-based councillor and Charter Mayor of Harrogate’s remarks follow concerns raised by local care providers in The Independent Care Group (ICG) over what they claim are insufficient fees offered by North Yorkshire Council to providers of care to people who need support in their own home, supported living or in care and nursing homes and other settings.
But, the local authority executive member for health and adult services, added he was proud of the council’s “long track record of investing in and working with the care sector”.
And, he said, North Yorkshire Council could not "just keep raising council tax” in the face of the county’s ageing population and the council’s own multi-million pound budget shortfalls.
Coun Harrison said: “There are some very real challenges facing the care sector in North Yorkshire, as well as across the country.
“A quarter of the population in North Yorkshire is aged over 65, compared with 18 per cent for England – up from 21 per cent in 2011 and forecast to rise to a third over the next 10 years.
“We have above average life expectancy, and we perform well in indicators for health and wellbeing, but for the increasing numbers of people that need adult social care support the cost has risen dramatically in recent years.
“Nearly half of all the council’s revenue budget is spent on adult social care.
"More than £340 million this year, with over 80 per cent of that going straight to providers.
"We directly fund placements with nearly 300 registered care homes, and fund packages of care with more than 150 home care providers.
“The average cost of residential care for people aged over 65 has increased by 28 per cent in the past two years – and there has been a 14 per cent rise in the past 12 months alone.
"The council is paying on average nearly £1,300 a week for a typical place in a residential care home in Harrogate for someone with dementia, and it can be as high as £2,500.
“We have a long track record of investing in and working with the care sector, and more than 90 per cent of care services in the county are provided by small and medium-sized businesses and charities.
"During the last year an additional £33 million of funds have been invested into social care, with the majority of that funding going directly to care providers, including a three-year programme to raise basic care funding for many providers.
“We established a quality team, which is a hands-on team of frontline nurses, care professionals and care managers who have worked with several providers to turn around quality and help them to continue their work in supporting the community.
"Put bluntly, this has helped prevent a number of providers from closing but, despite this, we have had to step in when providers have ceased trading at short notice to support both those people who need care and support, and employees who need jobs.
“The council, including the leader and myself, has worked with care providers to make the case to successive governments about reform and long-term increases in funding for the sector.
"I have been a strong public advocate for nationally-funded pay parity between care workers and NHS staff.
“As the executive member for health and adult services, I am satisfied that the council have risen to the challenge and I am proud of what we have achieved with the care sector.
"But, at the same time, when residents tell me they are understandably unhappy with other council services I have to point out where the majority of their council tax is going.
“For more than a decade, the council and care partners have agreed ‘Cost of Care’ settlements, in place for several years at a time, for residential and nursing homes.
"These settlements set the benchmark for care fees and consider issues such as inflation and the national living wage, and when the council is currently facing a multi-million pound deficit even after investment at the levels outlined it is really important that we work within these agreements.
“We need to have an honest conversation both locally and nationally about how to reform and fund adult social care in this country, and how much money is needed to fund it sustainably.
"As a council, we can’t just keep raising council tax, and we can’t fix less potholes.”