Comhairle targets health and social care reserves as budget day looms

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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will consider proposals this week to reduce its funding of the Islands’ health and social care body in the coming year due to the organisation’s high-level of financial reserves.

A recent Scottish government report showed that the islands’ Integrated Joint Board (IJB) – a combined organisation of NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle, which plans and manages health and social care services locally – had financial reserves above the level of other similar organisations across Scotland.

Now, faced with a budget crisis due to potential cuts in the government’s grants to local authorities, the Comhairle is proposing to reduce its payments to the IJB next year, and that the IJB uses its reserves to make-up the short-fall.

But concerns have surfaced that the plans could hit measures aimed at addressing the current staffing crisis in the sector.

Dr Ron Culley, Chief Officer of the IJB said: “The Integration Joint Board has developed financial reserves in line with its policies. These reserves are being used to support strategic investment, for example, in apprenticeship schemes and in the reform of primary care.

“The IJB also sets aside resource each year to deal with operational pressures and we anticipate 2019/20 will be no different – we are planning to use financial reserves to assist with pressures on both the Comhairle and NHS side of the budget.

“The IJB needs to be able to set a balanced budget by law, and it is therefore reliant on the resources passed to it by the Comhairle and the Health Board. All parties will be working towards an achievable budget settlement.”

A spokesperson for the Comhairle stated: “The Comhairle will make a decision in the context of the outturn projections for this year and the funding allocations for future years.

“This Report sets out an expectation that the IJB will use its resources wisely but notes that from the Comhairle perspective there is a risk of cutting other services whilst IJB reserves grow. At this stage it’s more of a planning decision that the IJB can take into account.”

The Comhairle’s proposals are due to be discussed at a meeting of the authority’s Policy and Resources committee on Wednesday, and in a report on its budget, concerns have also been raised that whilst progress on the Comhairle’s Service Redesign process has been made, there is a risk that the process will not be able to deliver the required savings and service changes in time, and other ways of making the savings will have to be implemented.

The report also highlights that uncertainty also surrounds the Comhairle’s budget due to the on-going national dispute over pay for teachers and other council staff, who have rejected offers of a three per-cent increase in pay – the level of increase projected in the Comahirle’s budget for 2019/2020.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary, Derek MacKay, will deliver Scotland’s Budget for the coming year, and the level of block grants to Scotland’s local authorities will become known.

The Comhairle is planning a meeting for councillors next week to discuss its budget as i funding levels will be known, and how it will address any short-falls.