Latest Public Sector News

09.01.17

Welsh LGA: Social care costs may force councils to merge after all

The rising cost of social care could eventually force Welsh councils to merge despite these plans being dropped just last October, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has said.

The WLGA's chief executive Steve Thomas warned that the costs Welsh councils will face for social care will double over the next 15 years from £1.3bn to £2.6bn, with “no suggestion” of how councils will fund the rise.

Thomas suggested that the answer to the crisis may have to come in the form of funding given by Westminster rather than in the Welsh government budget, describing social care as “the elephant in the room” for future councillors.

“There are huge pressures, not least of all on health and social care. Social care costs will double in the next 15 years,” Thomas told BBC Radio Wales. “Active consideration of either mergers of authorities or at least merger of services will be commonplace in the next period.”

Last October the Welsh government scrapped plans to merge the country’s 22 councils into eight or nine bodies in order to find £650m of savings, instead making regional collaboration between councils mandatory. However, it appears that the idea may have to be revived in the future.

Speaking to PSE, Thomas said that the situation is becoming “serious” with funding currently back to 2003 levels and citing projections that future financial settlements will only “flatline or shrink” under austerity measures.

Thomas said that the WLGA was focusing on social care “as it’s the one area where we think we can help the wider public services in Wales”, but stressed that further support from national government may be needed.

“The situation is becoming serious,” added Thomas. “We’ve got problems with residential care homes. We’ve got problems with huge demographic challenges.”

With elections due to be held in all of Wales’ local authorities this May, Thomas said that social care is “certainly … the biggest issue” that new councillors will have to address. He suggested that the government may consider boosting social care funding by introducing a tobacco surcharge, which would see service users’ payments rise if they are smokers.

(Image c. Ben Birchall PA Wire)

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