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Adult social services directors ponder the financial void...
Adult social services directors ponder the financial void

The adult social care green paper has made the perennial conundrum of juggling service improvements with tight finances tougher than ever, say adult social services directors.

Many councils were modernising services before Independence, Well-being and Choice was released and directors were disappointed - although perhaps not surprised - to discover there is no new money to speed up the changes.

The director of a metropolitan council, which has been highly successful in encouraging people to take direct payments for services, said many council facilities were now operating below full capacity as a result of people spending their cash in the private sector.

He cited the example of a day centre which councillors wanted to retain, even though it was nearly as expensive to operate for 40 people as it had been for 100. 'There's a strong lobby from the disabled group to keep it running until no one wants to use it, but we can't afford that,' the director said.

'We have to face a critical decision at some time about whether we can carry on running our own services.'

The director supports the principle of direct payments but said few local politicians appreciated the financial difficulty in which it placed him. He said he needed bridging support from the government until traditional council-run facilities could be closed.

One northern director facing the same problem with the transition was blunt in assessing his predicament.

'I'm in the shit in terms of the budget,' he confessed. 'How do you get from a direct service basis to an individual payments basis?'

The director of a well-performing Midlands council said his department needed better co-operation with hospitals and he was concerned the green paper failed to overcome conflicts between NHS and social services policy to alleviate problems such as bed blocking.

'They want us to be more joined up about sharing information, but it has been difficult for us to engage in the debate about the new NHS IT system,' he explained.

The director agreed with his counterparts on the issue of finance. 'There's a constant challenge with resources - we have to operate with quite tight eligibility criteria and that's surely contrary to the ideas on operating more preventative services in the green paper.'

Another council's acting director said her services had been going in the opposite direction to that suggested by the green paper, with tighter eligibility criteria to limit demand.

'Adult social care is inadequately funded by the government,' she exclaimed. 'We have to prioritise - we prioritise on those with the greatest need.'

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