Feature: Did £1.3m Health and Care cuts sneak through the back door?

In our third and final review of the last week’s Council budget, the Editor looks at an item that slipped through almost without comment – but could have a devastating impact on Social Care in Moray….

THE MORAY BUDGET had one item that, quite surprisingly, nobody really appeared to want to talk about despite the fact that it contained a massive £1.3million reduction in an area that should be of great interest to all of us.

Slipped into the detail was item 3.8, in a section dealing with the grant settlement from the Scottish Government – I’ll quote: “The conditions of the settlement also permit councils to reduce funding for Social Care by their share of £80million nationally. This amounts to £1.3million for Moray.”

This is further explained under 5.2 of the now accepted budget, which said: “The largest single item is a reduction in funding to the Moray Integration Joint Health Board (MIJB) for Health and Social Care Services of £1.3million, in accordance with the settlement letter from the Scottish Government.”

Yes, for those who are aware of local issues – that is the same MIJB who are so heavily involved in helping clear up the mess contained in the Care Inspectorate report last week, the one that slammed Moray’s poor performance and stating that children in care in Moray were “being put at risk”.

According to the budget report, this cut in the MIJB budget would be mitigated with 5.3 saying: “The reduction in funding is counter-balanced on the MIJB budget by additional funding from the Scottish Government of £1.72million which will be routed through the NHS, to meet the additional budget pressures from the implementation of the Scottish Living Wage.”

Thanks if you are still with me. OK, so we are to save £1.3million from the Care budget, but it’s OK, we have the money that is supposed to be providing a Living Wage to low-paid care workers and we can always just use that? I don’t find that particularly reassuring.

So why was there no debate?

There was no debate on this – not from the SNP, who probably did not particularly wish to draw attention to another Scottish Government ‘smoke and mirrors’ piece of financial planning that was classic Take from Peter, Give to Paul.

Nor from the Independent and Tory administration, fearful that anyone actually talking about taking cash from the only recently formed MIJB might look a tad foolish, far less that they mitigate it by saying “it’s OK, we have it covered from the cash we’re getting for the low paid”.

Sorry – one person did stand up. Sean Morton may be currently suspended by the Labour Party (some would say that is a blessing in disguise) but as he battles the reasons for that away from his Council duties, he quite correctly remains fighting, as a serving member of our council, for what he passionately believes in.

Health Care is one such subject that Councillor Morton truly cares about – and in particular care services for those who really need it, particularly the disabled in our community.

He objected strongly to item 3.8 – he wanted it removed entirely from the budget. In the very least he wished to have it discussed, openly, by the council. He was denied either – not one Councillor was willing to discuss it, not one was willing to second his motion, leaving him no other option than to record a motion of dissent.

MIJB Forced to make decisions for the Council?

Sean Morton

I spoke to Councillor Morton about this after the meeting, wishing to get to the bottom of an item that did appear to be hushed up as far as was possible – and when that happens, I become curious.

He told me: “The key point here is that extra money is coming through the NHS to cover the cost of paying staff the living wage. But that £1.7million in new money was already earmarked to cover staff wages.

“What the council has done is use that money from the NHS as justification for cutting how much it puts into the pot – we needed that money to pay the living wage.

“Now the council has wiped out the MIJBs additional living wage cash so they will be forced to make cuts in service provision in order to pay the wages bill. That will mean service provision across the board – not just social care.

“The council is saying it is cutting how much it provides for social care, but it’s really cutting how much it gives to the MIJB. It knows the MIJB is responsible for allocating the money to each service and is forcing members of the MIJB to raid NHS funds to cover the costs of the council cut.”

With the Living Wage Bill kicking in this year, Councillor Morton insists that all the Council has done is use new money for wages as an excuse to “raid the pot” that the Council have only just started sharing with the NHS through the MIJB.

He added: “They are banking on MIJB members not cutting social care by £1.3million but applying that cut to the NHS services the MIJB runs as well as social care services. They are forcing the MIJB to cut NHS services in order to balance their own budget.

“It’s incredibly clever because it’s not the most obvious cut in the world. It’s classic smoke and mirrors.”

A sad and sorry tale of an instance where perhaps the Independents/Tories/SNP are jointly culpable at pulling the wool over our eyes.

Council Tax up by 3%Budget Review Part 1Budget Review Part 2