Birchley: Vale’s breakaway plan puts our most vulnerable people at risk

Cllr Patricia Birchley
Cllr Patricia Birchley

I felt compelled to respond to Cllr Neil Blake opinion piece last week, particularly his belief that, simply due to the size of the District, a Unitary for Aylesbury Vale would provide the best possible services to local residents.

Last year, we heard a clear message from Bucks business leaders that the only effective way forward was one unitary authority for the county, as two would deliver only minimal savings for council tax payers.

I’d also like to explain why any move towards a unitary council for Aylesbury Vale and, whatever Mr Blake thinks should happen in the rest of Buckinghamshire, would not be in the best interests of our most vulnerable residents.  

In our most recent budget consultation, local people right across Buckinghamshire told us that caring for disabled and older people was their top priority - indeed, these groups featured in three out of the top four issues.  

The County Council’s Adult Social Care delivers excellent value for money.

Since 2010, we have made efficiency savings worth £24 million by changing the way day services are delivered. 

For example someone with a mild to moderate learning disability now spends their day participating in the community whilst those with more severe difficulties will be supported in new state of the art day centres, two of which are already open in Buckingham and Aylesbury.  A further £12 million of savings will be realised by 2017 as we make services more flexible and support residents to be as independent as possible. 

In business terms, savings like this can only be achieved through sufficient size, economies of scale, expert knowledge and experience. And, it’s not just me saying that, two independent organisations have said that our adult social care services are nearly 27% more efficient than our comparator group of county councils.

The scale of costs is also relevant. Whilst AVDC currently spends a total of nearly £21 million, the gross budget for Adult Social Care and Public Health alone will be close to £200 million. 

Additionally, the number of people aged 65 and over requiring our services in the next ten years is set to rise by 30%, and expensive learning disability placements are also predicted to increase.  

Managing these budget pressures whilst providing first class services needs highly skilled staff, who may well be reluctant to work for an authority with absolutely no background in social care.

These are just some of the reasons why I cannot imagine that Buckinghamshire’s most vulnerable residents would be better served by if a unitary council in Aylesbury Vale is established.

We also know that having two Clinical Commissioning Groups (the old Primary Care Trusts) in Bucks is time-consuming for partners and causes duplication, something we must avoid. 

As the Cabinet Member, I know that the challenges of future demand in adult social care are best managed on a county-wide scale by working more closely with partners and listening closely to the views of our residents.

To change this, introduces a level of risk to the most vulnerable that, in my opinion, is both unnecessary and unacceptable.

> Read leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council, Neil Blake’s column here.