Senior civil servants have dismissed local government modelling of a looming crisis in adult social care funding and council services as overly “apocalyptic”.
Financial forecasting by the LGA and councils such as Barnet LBC was “pessimistic” and unlikely to be realised, top officials from the Department for Communities & Local Government have told a commitee of MPs.
DCLG permanent secretary Sir Bob Kerslake and colleagues made the comments last week following questioning by members of the communities and local government select committee about local government predictions that council resources would soon be almost entirely used up by growing demand for adult social care.
Sir Bob said: “We don’t suggest this is not a challenge, which it is, we’re quite up front with that, but we don’t believe it is as apocalyptic as the ‘Barnet graph of doom’ indicates.”
Turning to the LGA’s modelling, DCLG director general for localism David Prout said the LGA had used the “most pessimistic interpretation”. This did not take into account councils’ ability to adapt and change the way services were provide, he added.
“The way in which those demands are met and the way in which services are provided change over time and [the LGA’s projection] is the most pessimistic interpretation of future local authority funding levels and future demand which creates the catastrophic graphs that we have seen in the press.”
He later added: “You can create a ‘graph of doom’ by feeding all sorts of figures in.”
Sir Bob questioned the assumptions behind models which assumed “costs will inexorably go up, that you have limited capacity to deliver savings, that the income lines for local authorities are fixed.”
Such an assumption were not necessarily correct, he said, because “things are happening now that will help”. These included councils working closer with health bodies, the community budget pilots, the government’s work on the Dilnot proposals and the ability of councils to generate more income from business rates if they could deliver growth.
He added: “We don’t in any sense underestimate some of the challenges that local authorities face on this, but I do think there is some good evidence that local authorities have been very innovative in how they have managed the funding pressures they have faced.”
MP David Heyes (Lab) asked senior DCLG officials what they were doing to monitor the situation if they did not agree with the forecasts set out by the LGA and Barnet LBC.
Mr Prout said they were monitoring council spending and were confident they were protecting social services - a trend which fits the LGA’s own projection that it would be other services which would be squeezed as time went on.
“We are monitoring the spend that local authorities are putting in to children’s and adult social care of the last two years,” he added. “The amount going into adults social care has gone up slightly, on children’s social services it has gone down but not down by as much as local authorities have been reducing their spending overall.
“We feel that they have used these two years well, protecting spending in those two years, worked with partners on the redesign of local services and we expect them to be able to drive more efficiencies.”