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‘Legal challenge’ fears over Newcastle council cuts

Members of Newcastle city council have warned it is at risk of legal challenges because of social care and other services.

Last month the council approved plans for £70m cuts over three years in order to balance its finances.

But papers published ahead of a meeting of the council’s health scrutiny committee this afternoon reveal that the council’s scrutiny committees and finance and budget monitoring scrutiny group have raised concerns that the council could “find itself subject to legal challenge on the delivery of its statutory responsibilities”, especially regarding the “crisis situation” in adult social care.

The papers said that members had decided that “a guarantee could not be given” but that Newcastle was currently “in a better position than some councils”.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently investigating whether Lancashire county council is breaching its statutory responsibilities by extensive cuts to library services.

The committee said its largest area of concern was £1.2m of efficiency savings proposed this year from the care and support budget for adults living in their own homes.

It said this could “move the service away from one that contributes to a person’s quality of life, to one focused on addressing harm, risk and safety issues only” and create potential for legal challenges from service users.

However, it said that it had closely monitored the impact of the cuts and concluded that social services had been able to safely reduce the number and size of packages available.

There had been an increase in safeguarding activity, but the committee said this was a result of legislative changes since the Care Act.

The Local Government Ombudsman’s annual review, published today, shows that complaints and inquiries about home care have gone up by 25% in the past year.

The council has also cut a further £1.2m from its social care budget, as well as the jobs of 30 full-time equivalent staff.

The committee said that social care staff had “responded admirably” to the pressures, but it said that the current staff level now needed to be maintained for the next three years to deliver a safe and effective service.

The council is also seeking to save £700,000 from learning disability services by introducing a review process to respond to service users’ fluctuating needs.

The committee said it was “concerned about the level of budget cuts in this service over the full three year period” and that providers “may not have the capacity” to deliver a service that was designed to fluctuate with service users needs.

There are also £90,000 cuts to older people’s services proposed, including by cutting funding for lunch clubs.

The report said that without the funding, providers might have to close the clubs, which play “a vital role in helping to combat social isolation and loneliness”. It said loss of the service could have a negative impact on older people’s health, increasing pressure on health services.

However, the committee said it was working with learning disability service providers to support them in making the changes, and had developed a new model which should allow the lunch clubs to continue to run.

Funding was also withdrawn completely for telecare, leading to 31% of service users cancelling the service because they were unable to pay to continue to receive it.

(Image c. Glenn Bowman)

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