Black hole in social care

County chiefs are facing a black hole of more than �1million in their social care finances.

SUFFOLK: County chiefs are facing a black hole of more than �1million in their social care finances.

The gap has opened up through the combined impact of the credit crunch and opposition to increased charges - but councillors have pledged that it will not lead to budget cuts.

Suffolk county council had planned to save �7.1m by changing its system of support for those in care but the county is now expecting only to rake in �5.8m, with the shortfall being met from reserves rather than a reduction in services.

Personal budgets, known as customer journeys, have been brought in for Suffolk residents who need help from social services, the main impact being the removal of the cap on charges to full cost-payers.

Although the council has shifted some its council's responsibilities to charities, voluntary bodies, and independent care providers, increased charges have - in the words of a report to councillors by Graham Gatehouse, the director for adult and community services - brought about “customer dissatisfaction”.

However, the level of help has had to be increased because clients' income from their savings has been reduced due to record low interest rates, and the fall in the value of property prices has made many reluctant to sell their own homes.

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This double whammy means increased subsidies are being paid out by the council to the elderly.

A spokesman for the council admitted. “At the beginning of the year, adult and community services committed to save �7.1m from its budget.

“At this point, half way through the financial year, we cannot guarantee that this saving will be achievable and, while we will do all we can to make the savings, we predict that we may only achieve �5.8m.

“If this turns out to be the case on March 31 2010, then this difference will be covered from the department's reserves and will not affect the level of services that we offer our client.”

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