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A Kingston View: The County Council Needs Fairer Funding To Carry Out Its Responsibilities

Published on: 26 Feb, 2017
Updated on: 28 Feb, 2017

What happens in our county council, in County Hall at Kingston, has a direct impact on us just as much as decisions taken in the borough council as the recent stories about a possible 15% rise in council tax shows.

In what we hope will be regular columns from two Guildford based county councillors, Keith Witham, Conservative, who represents Worplesdon division and Fiona White, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Guildford West, readers can obtain a better insight of the formidable issues our county council faces.

In this first article Cllr Witham discusses on of the biggest issues the financing of adult social care in Surrey…

Cllr Keith Witham

By Keith Witham

When I was a boy I lived at home with my mother and grandparents in Bermondsey, SE London.

The nearest Mental Hospital was at “Cane Hill” in Coulsden, Croydon.  I remember as an eight or nine-year-old straining to overhear a hushed conversation between my mother and grandparents when a near neighbour had been “taken to Cain Hill”.

Everyone knew it was the local “looney bin”, as we shamefully used to call them in those days, and thinking back I can remember hearing the fear in their voices. But for the understanding of an eight-year-old boy, it was just a place that “bad people” were taken.

But we now know that the “inmates” of such mental hospitals included unmarried mothers whose families had disowned them including women who had been raped, and people with Downs syndrome – because there was nowhere else for them to go. They were locked away from society because society did not want to know.

Cane Hill Hospital, Croydon the kind of establishment in which the less able were hidden away

Today, 52 years later, I am a Surrey county councillor and chairman of Surrey’s Social Care Services Board.

The rising cost of adult social care has been in the national news recently, including the prominence given to this by Surrey County Council (SCC) during its recent discussions with the government and the need for fairer funding for Surrey.

And by fairer funding, I mean just that. Not special arrangements because Surrey is a Conservative council and  there is a Conservative government but recognising the demands and pressures that particularly exist in Surrey and getting that reflected in government funding decisions.

Adult social care includes: support given to elderly people either in nursing homes or to stay in their own home; help for disabled people and support for people with learning disabilities.  This year SCC will need some £430 million to cover these costs.  But its the last one, supporting those with learning disabilities, that I wish to draw attention to.

It may come as a surprise to many that Surrey has the largest proportion of people with learning disabilities, not only in the UK, but in Europe. And the cost to SCC of supporting them is approximately £130 million a year.

Why so high?  Because in 2011 when the government announced a change in its “Care in the Community” policy the aim was to close the old style, large mental hospitals.

Many were located on the southern edge of London, in Surrey. They were run by the NHS and paid for by the NHS budget. So when the government announced this it proposed to transfer the responsibility for nearly 1,000 people in the mental hospitals to the care of Surrey County Council adult social care. With that new responsibility also came a transfer of funding, over £60 million a year, from the NHS budget to the county council.

Things were fine, for a couple of years. But what happened then?  As is the way of governments, the rules were changed. In 2013 that £60 million a year was “rolled up” into the government’s “Revenue Support Grant” the funding it gives to councils annually as a contribution from the national taxpayer to the costs of local services. And in 2013  Surrey received £151 million.

What has happened to the “Revenue Support Grant” since then? It has decreased to £40 million this year, is expected to be a negligible £6 million next year.

The chart shows the dramatic decrease in funding support from central government for Surrey

By 2019 the government’s plan is that Surrey should pay the government £17million from money collected from Surrey’s council tax payers. SCC has said “No” as there is absolutely no reason for that, it is unfair.

But back to the point re learning disabilities, and that £60 million in 2011. Where is it now?

Surrey County Council was given the responsibility, but the funding has been eroded, year by year. The responsibility remains the same – and in fact is increasing; there are now over 3,500 people in Surrey with learning disabilities costing SCC £130 million a year – an average of over £37,000 a year to support each of them.

That’s why I want fair funding. The government should recognise the circumstances, understand the demands and pressures that existing in a particular area, such as Surrey, and where those are way above the norm, make the money fit the needs.

We are not asking for special treatment for Surrey. It is not a “sweetheart” deal as some described it. We just want recognition of the facts and a response which would allow the appropriate level of national taxpayer funded support – without just relying on council tax payers.

Its right that we have moved on from the 1960’s in terms of how society helps people, particularly elderly people, the disabled and those with learning disabilities.  But all of that costs huge sums of money, with legal responsibilities placed on councils to provide services. To provide those services, that Parliament, the government and all of us agree should be provided, we need a fairer system of funding.

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test One Response to A Kingston View: The County Council Needs Fairer Funding To Carry Out Its Responsibilities

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 27, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Cllr Witham has my respect. He takes the trouble to write to his electorate on a half yearly basis. It’s a shame our other country councillors do not follow his lead.

    In respect of mental health it is a shame that some 12 years since my complaint to the parliamentary ombudsman on the health and welfare services still does not have the adequate fortitude to do the job properly – for it is all too clear for those of us involved, a hospital cannot survive without home based ‘support’ be it physical or mental health disability with its associated costing.

    It is time our country accepted that a mental health sufferer is not a shirker (as George Freeman policy advisor to Mrs May seemed to imply yesterday) but someone with a real medical problem. When this is linked with a physical disability it can be devastating to all involved. Inevitably financial support is necessary allow both patient and family to ‘survive’.

    Most families in this situation are not the currently famous ‘JAM’s’ they are ‘SOTI’s’ (standing on thin ice) about to fall in if anything changes. One thing that requires attention is the pricing of products for the disabled. It should be controlled as they always seem to be double the identical item without the word “disability” attached.

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