Councils have been given until the end of April to convince Whitehall to spare social care from funding cuts in the 2015-16 spending round, LGC has learned.
The deadline emerged last week in a meeting between senior local government figures and Department of Health officials as the department prepares its funding bid to the Treasury for the spending round.
In a meeting marking the start of negotiations, DH officials urged council representatives to pinpoint where they could bear savings.
They also highlighted areas where they considered the Treasury may want to see efficiencies made.
- Initiatives that integrate social care and NHS services;
- Curbs to care provider fees;
- Increasing charges for care users;
- Greater use of reablement services that offer intensive support to older people to prevent them moving into expensive care homes.
One source close to the talks said the department was seeking “field intelligence” which was “grounded in reality”.
“I expect the Treasury will push councils quite hard on their ability to make savings through personalisation, integration and reablement,” the source said.
“It is possible to make savings through these measures, but in reality that will not be enough to do more than allow councils to cope with demographic changes.
“You can’t use adult social care savings towards the quantum of council funding cuts,” the source added.
Another person close to the talks told LGC: “We need to make the case that if the Treasury goes for further significant reductions to local government it will lead to significant reductions in the resources available to adult social care.”
This source said he was “confident” the DH would make the case to the Treasury that cuts to councils’ care budgets would increase pressure on the NHS.
“Protecting the NHS is a key priority for the government, so there is a good case to be made,” he said.
“The issue is how that sits with the Treasury when ministers from the other departments are lobbying too.”
DH officials are expected to make a formal submission about their 2015-16 funding expectations to the Treasury by the end of April. They will consider any evidence submitted by local government when putting this case together, one source said. This leaves councils a tight timeframe to put together a compelling case for care funds to be protected.
Senior council figures told LGC they would argue for councils’ care budgets to be effectively frozen in 2015-16 because they believed an increase was unlikely.
This freeze would have to be funded by a transfer of resources from the NHS and a slowdown in the pace of cuts from the Department for Communities & Local Government.
Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, told LGC: “We shouldn’t just accept falling budgets. We should make the case that you can’t continue on these lines and we have to provide the evidence for that.
“The health budget has been protected, and we should be saying the same about social care.”
Ms Pickup said it was “not sustainable” to expect councils to keep saving money by holding down fees for providers.
She also warned of a crisis in care funding if the transfer of funds from the NHS to local government, worth £859m in 2013-14, did not continue in future years.
Ms Pickup said 8% of the social care budget was funded through this route. If it did not continue the social care “world will collapse”, she said.
Adass figures show that councils incur an average cost increase of 3% every year to cope with rising demand for care.
This is the result of the increasing care burden of an ageing population and a rise in the number of younger adults with disabilities requiring long-term support.
A Treasury spokesman told LGC final budgets for 2015-16 would be made public this summer. He said there was an assumption that all budgets - except in the protected areas of schools, the NHS and international development - would fall.
As LGC went to press, the DH had not responded to a request for comment.
Separate talks are taking place about the cost of funding reforms in the draft Care and Support Bill, LGC understands.
Although most of the bill’s measures would come into force after the 2015-16 spending round, sector leaders claim councils will need extra funding to prepare for the changes.