SOUTH Tyneside Council’s social care budget is set to take the biggest financial hit as plans are drawn up to make savings of £22m over the next financial year, it has emerged.
The local authority has already made an estimated £90m in efficiency savings since 2010 – shedding 1,200 jobs in the process.
The pain is set to continue in 2015/16 with further cuts of £21.978m identified from across all council departments.
Yesterday, members of the People Select Committee were given an outline of the proposed savings by Coun Ed Malcolm, the authority’s lead member for resources and innovation, and Stuart Reid, its head of finance.
The biggest target is in the area of Commissioning for Independent Living – covering the money the council spends on helping borough people to live independently.
A review of the services provided and the sharing of costs with health colleagues is earmarked to save £7.5m.
No specifics on where the cuts would come were given – leading to one councillor to call for “more meat on the bone”.
A further £3.9m will be saved from the council’s corporate finance pot, specifically through maximising council tax collection.
Meanwhile, bringing more services in-house, maximising the authority’s relationship with its strategic partner BT and combining the council’s and South Tyneside Homes’ customer services were also highlighted as areas of savings.
Amid the financial gloom, Coun Malcolm did make a commitment that the local authority would retain, at a cost of £150,000, its Local Welfare Provision Scheme – which provides vouchers for people in emergency need to use at Morrisons, Asda and other retail outlets, in addition to fuel top-ups and household goods provision.
Many local authorities nationwide plan to drop the scheme from April due to the withdrawal of government funding.
In reference to the savings to be made from the social care budget, Coun Malcolm said: “Everything that we have done will ensure that the people we represent get the services that they need.
“No one will go without services, no one will go without care. It’s the highest area of spend and presents a significant challenge for the council.
“It is a demographic strain that has been placed on the system.
“There is a national focus on independence and personalisation because people want to be able to decide the level of care that they want and that’s how we’ve approached this particular subject.
“But let me repeat that we will still be providing a service that will ensure that no one will suffer.”
Committee chairman Coun John McCabe said he believed the cutbacks had reached “saturation point” and called for more work to generate income by attracting new businesses into the borough.
He also urged caution when “selling off the family silver” – referring to the sale of council-owned buildings to generate income.
Coun McCabe added: “We don’t always have to give away our assets. Yes, we should be maximising our assets but we should always retain the freehold on those assets. It’s an important pointer for the future. We can’t sell away the family silver.”