Huge Covid care pressures revealed as Peterborough tackles £37m budget deficit

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Huge financial pressures on the care system in Peterborough have been revealed under the latest budget proposals released by the city council.

The authority is having to pay millions of pounds more a year due to a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and an ageing population, new papers show. 
The council was facing a black hole of £37.5 million until the Government relaxed its rules on borrowing, allowing it to loan £20 million to help plug the gap.

On top of additional government funding, as well as a better than expected picture on council tax and business rates, the council has been able to set out a balanced budget for 2021/22 which legally it has to do.

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Earlier this week, council leader Cllr John Holdich said news the Government was allowing it to borrow £20 million (known as a Capitalisation Direction) to plug its deficit had stopped the authority from needing to make “catastrophic” cuts.

Huge financial pressures on the care system in Peterborough have been revealed under the latest budget proposals released by the city councilHuge financial pressures on the care system in Peterborough have been revealed under the latest budget proposals released by the city council
Huge financial pressures on the care system in Peterborough have been revealed under the latest budget proposals released by the city council

The majority of that money (£13.7 million) will be spent in 2021/22 and has to be paid back over 20 years, with annual interest of just over £1 million. The rest of the deficit will be met by increased funding (£12.7 million) and additional savings and income (£4.4 million).

Previous estimates of expected losses have also been revised down by £6.6 million.

The council has insisted that its gloomy financial picture was as a result of government cuts to its funding and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with Cllr Holdich telling the Peterborough Telegraph: “We’ve had to go through the bills to prove to the Government there was nothing else we could do.”

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Although the council is expecting an increase in debt owed by businesses due to the pandemic, it is also forecasting that it will earn millions of pounds a year more than expected because of an improved situation with regards to business rates and council tax payments.

The changing financial picture means that the latest budget proposals, unusually, do not contain eye-catching proposals, although it confirms that the authority’s portion of council tax will rise by five per cent from April - the maximum allowed without needing to call a local referendum.

The figure includes a three per cent rise in the precept for adult social care, with the overall increase netting the council an additional £1.6 million next year.

The most significant details in the budget relate to adult social care which will see additional costs of £6 million next year, rising to £10.5 million in 2023/24.

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The council said: “Nationally, adult social care is facing unprecedented financial pressures resulting from reducing budgets, rising costs of care, increasingly complex needs and an ageing population, exacerbated further by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The council has not escaped these pressures, which are driven by a growing population and an increase in contract inflation and the cost of providing care.”

It added: “The vast majority of external funding for social care which had been available during phase one of Covid-19 will no longer be available in 2021/22.

“The budget required under this proposal would enable the council to continue to support providers with the costs of direct intervention.”

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Measures include: 
. Continuing to fund an additional 104 beds commissioned by the council for patients discharged from hospital into other care settings during phase one of Covid-19 
. Continuing to support providers with infection control measures associated with Covid-19, for example with personal protection equipment and professional support 
. Supporting providers to cover the cost of the largest increase to the National Living Wage in the past 20 years.

Other proposals include establishing a “dedicated care home support team across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for two years to support homes where systemic issues are identified, in order to reduce the risk of provider failure and/or large-scale safeguarding concerns”.

The council added: “This dedicated team of staff could provide practical support to the homes for a concentrated period to bring practice and documentation up to the required position. They could also work with providers where early involvement is likely to provide a preventative benefit.”

The authority said across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough there are 167 registered residential and nursing homes of which there are a “small number of homes which require focus to address and respond to quality and practice issues”.

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The new joint team would see the recruitment of a manager and five social workers, with three-quarters of the cost met by Cambridgeshire County Council and one-quarter by the city council.

Further Covid pressures highlighted in the budget include £2 million due to a “small increase” in the number of children in care.

The report states: “The council is concerned that the impact of Covid-19 will continue to affect families and children and young people with the most complex needs, resulting in a continuing small increase in the numbers needing specialist care and placements over the remainder of the current financial year and into 2021/22.”

The budget also reveals that the council is “proposing to investigate and implement a joint Blue Badge service with Cambridgeshire County Council” which would generate a saving on staffing costs.

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And the authority is set to undertake a “review and restructure” of the management of the city’s Prevention and Enforcement Service across the following areas: city centre, market, strategic parking and parking enforcement.

PES officers are responsible for enforcing anti-social behaviour and illegal parking, among other issues, and the budget noted: “The changes will allow for more resilience and co-ordination across service areas.”

This is due to deliver a saving of £50,000 a year.

The budget will be voted on by city councillors in March with residents able to have their say through a public consultation before that time.

The city council is one of just a few local authorities to set its budget through two stages, with the first phase late last year including plans to tackle £2.7 million of the deficit.

Proposals which were approved then included a rise in the charge to collect brown bins for garden waste from £45 a year to £50 and the switching off of some street lights between midnight and 5am.

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