Claims collapsed social care deal could cost £2.5m a year is rejected by council bosses

Bosses at Northumberland County Council have rejected claims that the collapse of a social care deal with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust could cost taxpayers an extra £2.5m a year.

By James Harrison
Thursday, 19th August 2021, 4:35 pm
Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust as set to part ways next month.
Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust as set to part ways next month.

Northumberland County Council (NCC) and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT) are preparing for their current partnership to expire after negotiations to extend it broke down.

The looming ‘divorce’, which will see the local authority bring responsibility for social care back in-house, has prompted predictions of ballooning budgets if both sides cannot be persuaded to return to the table.

But the suggestion was slammed by finance chiefs, who insisted final implications were still being calculated.

“It’s not just about saving money at all, it’s about value for money, about what we can provide with a set budget,” said Peter Jackson, who was leader of the county council until last year and who has called for talks with the trust to continue.

“We’ve been told that the change is going to effectively have a cost to the council of around about £2.5m a year, and that’s a real issue.

“This is the largest budget of the council, at over £100m a year, we’ve asked questions about the impact on residents, on the finances, about governance, but they haven’t been answered in any way.”

Speaking at the county council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Coun Jackson was referring to letters he and several other councillors had reportedly received from figures at NHCFT.

The communications prompted panel chairman Jeff Reid to call the trust’s actions “inappropriate” and claim it had been “very selective in who it has reached out to”.

The trust informed the council in February that it planned to walk away from talks to extend a 2011 deal to provide adult social care services, including care management, community rehabilitation and specialist learning disability services.

While a late U-turn saw it offer to return to the table, council bosses were unconvinced, and the existing deal is set to expire at the end of September.

While council bosses admitted their new responsibilities may lead to increased costs, it could also be balanced out by savings in other areas which, they claimed, had not been considered by the trust.

Jan Willis, NCC’s interim director of finance, said: “I’m simply not in a position to give any assurances about the validity of the figures that have been shared.

“However, I do not believe this presents a complete view of the financial position.

“I think what the trust has done is to cherry pick areas where there are likely to be additional costs, but they have not factored in areas where there are likely to be savings.

“Those numbers have not been discussed with my finance team and we have no understanding of the assumptions that sit behind those figures – I do not think that those figures are reliable at the present time.”

When contacted, the trust declined to comment on the letter sent to county councillors and instead referred to a statement issued jointly with the council promising to continue “tackling health inequalities and maintaining an excellent standard of health and care across Northumberland”.