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Friday, January 09, 2004

That £22 million

I see that the Welsh Social Service Chiefs have now waded into the debate on how the £22 million, given to us by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to keep down Council Tax, should be spent. Their intervention is an indirect one but is widely seen as pertinent to the debate. They have published a survey that shows that Welsh Social Service Departments have overspent by £13 million already this year.

There are some who are arguing that this justifies the decision by the Labour Assembly Government to ring-fence £19.5 million of the Chancellor's money for bed blocking in respect of elderly patients. However, if you look more closely at the figures it becomes apparent that nearly £12 million of the £13 million overspend related to Children's Services. Oops! Wrong target Rhodri!

This illustrates more than anything else why the Assembly cannot dictate to local Councils. They have to let the councils make their own decisions based on their own circumstances. The chances are that if all of the £22 million had been given to Councils unhypothocated then a large chunk of it would have gone to Social Services. The difference though is that in some areas it would have been spent on bed-blocking, in other areas on out-of-County placements for children in care. In most Councils it would have been spent on both.

It is also worth noting in this context that although there is no comparable survey there is also an overspend on education in most Council areas, largely due to Special Needs pressures. Some of the £22 million might have been spent on that if Councils had had a free hand but it is not to be so. There is still time for the Labour Assembly Government to change its mind of course. Will they? I doubt it.

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