Council tax rises expected in face of ‘destabilised’ adult social care

Essex County Council is anticipating raising its share of council tax by 3.5 per cent – adding almost £50 to that part of the bill for an average band D homeowner.

The authority has estimated increases to the social care precept alongside an increase to the general level of council tax is expected to yield £27m in 2023/24.

This is made up of £15.4m from a two per cent increase to the adult social care  precept and £11.6m from a 1.5 per cent increase to the main council tax precept from April. A formal decision over any increases will not be made until next month at Full Council.

Currently the county council Band D Council Tax bill stands at £1,401.12, which was an increase of £60.21, or 4.49 per cent, on the previous year’s bill.

The council has said in a budget officer report to be discussed at cabinet on January 17: “It is critically important that we are able to sustainably raise the revenue in the base budget, to fund the major ongoing cost pressures on the adult social care budget”.

But even with that level of adult social care precept increase, in addition to a government grant increase that together will increase funding for social care in 2023/24 by £47m, adult social care funding still remains £58m short of the amount required to keep up with growth.

The council adds: “Pressures in the adult social care market have increased steadily over the past 18 months and are now challenging the capacity of the market to meet demand, resulting in a destabilised market, with a heightened risk of provider failure.

“Despite the award of additional monies, the funding made available remains lower than the required growth in the resources for adult social care between 2022/23 and 2023/24 (£58m).

“Furthermore, it is unclear whether these funding streams will continue beyond 2024/25, and what additional demand pressures the council will be experiencing by that point, creating a high risk of additional cost pressures impacting the council. Whilst this is predominantly focussed on the adult social care market, there is a risk other markets may begin to be impacted.”

The medium range scenario for future years indicates a gap between the council’s overall expected funding streams and its overall expenditure.

After delivering 100 per cent of all existing planned savings, the gap is expected to be £19m in 2024/25 rising to £75m by 2026/27, before further tax rises.

The council report adds: “The council has a robust savings, income and efficiency programme which enables setting a balanced budget for 2023/24 with a further £48m of savings out into 2024 to 2027.

“In 2023, there will be renewed focus on looking at further ways to transform the council and identify ways to drive further savings, including through use of technology and digitisation, and the redesign of services and different ways of working with partners.”

The revenue costs of borrowing to finance the capital programme will rise from 8.4 per cent of the net budget in 2022/23, to an estimated 12.2 per cent by 2026/27.

At the moment it is delivering hefty investments such as Chelmsford’s proposed new Beaulieu Park railway station, the north eastern bypass and the Colchester to Tendring A120 A133 link road, as well as highways maintenance and providing new school places. But it warns about the impact of higher interest rates.

The council said: “In the longer term, it will not be possible to sustain this level of capital investment without the greater achievement of savings, generation of income and increased funding.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter