Council tax freeze and care costs top ministerial talks

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Roy Perry has been given a commitment from a Government minister that the county will be supported for freezing its charge to householders over the last five years.

Councillor Perry quizzed Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins amid worries of an impending ‘cliff edge’ when the Council Tax Freeze Grant ceases. Government has paid councils grant equivalent to a one per cent increase in Council Tax if they freeze their share of the tax. In Hampshire, a one per cent rise is equivalent to £5million.

Councillor Perry welcomed the Minister’s assurances that funding would be built into the Council’s funding baseline, adding: “If the funding was lost, we would have to find a further £20million savings, which would be extremely difficult, given we are already having to find £100million savings to balance the budget by 2017/18.”

Kris Hopkins praised Hampshire’s on-going freeze at a time when householders were having to tighten their belts. Government and local authorities had a responsibility to make sure that they reduced the burden on them.

Fears over the funding of substantial reforms to adult social care were also high on the agenda when Councillor Perry had talks with the Minister and other council leaders.

With budgets under extreme pressure due to rising demand from an ageing population, there is concern over whether Government will fully fund the new burdens on councils under the Care Act. Hampshire County Council has welcomed these reforms, which are designed to put people and their carers in better control of their care. Under the new system, people currently paying for their care could request an assessment. Councillor Perry commented: “Along with other councils, we are still assessing the many changes and consequential impact that will arise, but it would help us if Government could confirm that the costs of a new burden on local government will be fully funded.”

The Government is joining up NHS and council-run social care to give vulnerable people better support in the community, which is designed to ease pressures on hospitals by preventing admissions and unnecessary hospital stays.

Funding has been ring-fenced into a pooled budget and council leaders have questioned the Government’s inclusion of this in their calculations of local authorities ‘spending power’ when the NHS will draw from the pooled budget to fund existing services.

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