£28 per head on Denbighshire and Flintshire councillors’ lunch expenses but less than £5 per head in care homes
Richard Evans, Local Democracy Reporter
An investigation has revealed the amount Denbighshire and Flintshire councillors can claim for overnight expenses is £20 more than they spend on a person’s daily care home fees.
According to Care Forum Wales (CFW), the day rate paid by local authorities for a person’s standard residential care can vary between £90.25 in Denbighshire and £92.36 in Flintshire compared to £115.27 in Torfaen in South Wales.
But if councillors are away on official business, they can claim up to £95 a night for overnight accommodation and £28 for meals – totaling £123.
In contrast, the toolkit or formula used by Denbighshire allows just £4.65 a day per resident for “food, domestic and cleaning supplies” while the equivalent rate for Flintshire is £4.48.
Meanwhile, councillors can also claim a mileage allowance of 45p a mile along with an additional 5p a mile for car passengers and 20p a mile for those using a bicycle and 24p a mile for motorbikes.
The figures emerged following research by CFW, the body that represents nearly 500 private and third-sector care providers.
Their report refers to “an illogical and unacceptable disparity that’s a clear case of hypocrisy” and urges newly re-elected councillors to review care home fees “on the basis of fairness to reflect the true cost of care”.
The allegation of double standards from CFW comes after a “fee-fixing cartel” in North Wales was broken apart.
Until this year all six local authorities in the region worked together in setting the fees paid to care home for providing care.
But Gwynedd and Anglesey councils have ignored their former partners in the North Wales Regional Fee Setting Group and announced increases of up to 25 per cent in their rates.
Both Conwy and Wrexham councils are now also conducting reviews, but both Denbighshire and Flintshire are refusing to budge from their fees, which are some of the lowest in Wales and are, says CFW, keeping their fees “irresponsibly and artificially low”.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of CFW, said: “We certainly don’t begrudge councillors the right to claim legitimate expenses while on official duties, far from it.
“It seems to me only right that a councillor, who has expenses quite properly to deal with council business, should not be having more than it pays for a profoundly frail older person who has been assessed as needing that care.
“In deciding on their rates, Denbighshire and Flintshire are using figures to suit themselves and ignoring what it actually costs to provide social care.
“Refusing to even contemplate conducting a review is an untenable position and a kick in the teeth for the vulnerable people for whom we provide care.
“Soaring food and energy costs have made the situation all the more urgent with reports of care homes being faced with horrendous increases and one home in Wales telling us they were facing a 500 per cent hike in its gas bill.
“How can it be right that councillors pay themselves £28 a day for food when they are away on council business but are only willing to allow less than £5 a day to feed each resident? That wouldn’t even buy you a coffee and a croissant at the Co-op.”
CFW have compiled a table detailing the postcode lottery of fees paid by councils across Wales.
Denbighshire is fourth from bottom and Flintshire County Council is languishing right at the foot of the table.
Gwynedd and Anglesey were spurred into action after similar increases were agreed by councillors in Merthyr Tydfil who were given legal advice that it would be “unlawful” not to set their rates at a level that reflected the true cost of providing care.
The upshot is that Denbighshire now pays £6,272 a year less per person for nursing care for people with dementia than the rate in Gwynedd for exactly the same level and quality of care – even if they’re just 10 miles apart, such as towns like Corwen in Denbighshire and Bala in Gwynedd.
As a result, funding for a care home with 40 residents in Denbighshire would be £250,000 less than a home with the same number of beds in Gwynedd over the course of a year.
Mr Kreft added: “Councillors are reimbursed for real costs and the point we would make is that social care providers are also having to deal with very real costs.
“Nursing care involves paying a nurse to be on the premises 24/7, and staff will need to help, dressing, washing and sometimes moving and feeding residents as well as dealing with incontinence. This level of care is way above and beyond the cost of accommodation and food for a councillor.
“This is a good time to reflect on our priorities as a society, especially as we all accept that social care is a sector of national strategic importance which underpins the NHS, the economy and communities across Wales.
“We have surely got our priorities wrong, and something needs to change because local authorities have looked after their elected members first and foremost.
“Councillors in Denbighshire and Flintshire have now run out of excuses for refusing to do the right thing for the most vulnerable people in the two counties.
“They certainly can’t hide behind the old fee-fixing cartel anymore because that’s been totally blown apart by Gwynedd and Anglesey who have finally, thankfully, recognised the need to pay fees that better reflect the real cost of providing care.
“Without fair fees, the only way that care homes can remain viable is by charging top of fees so that they can meet those additional costs.
“As a consequence, the councillors in Denbighshire and Flintshire are shifting the financial burden onto hard-working, hard-pressed families in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
“Essentially, these hypocritical councillors are discriminating against vulnerable people and imposing a stealth tax on families.
“Care homes are expected to adhere to national standards, and a new national rating system is being introduced. How can it be fair to have a national ratings system without a national minimum fee?”
“What we now need as a matter of urgency is a national minimum rate that reflects the true cost of care and enables us to properly reward the front-line heroes in social care with pay that reflects their massive contribution.
“It’s also time for the Welsh Local Government Association to stand up and urge those outlier members to finally accept their responsibility and pay fees that reflect the real cost of care.
“With a steep rise in the elderly population, the demographics are heading in one direction with the ever-increasing demand for social care.
“If we cannot provide sustainable social care services which underpin the NHS in Wales, then it is also going to place an unbearable strain on hospitals across Wales and put more financial pressure on hard-working families.
“All of this underlines why it is imperative that we have a national approach from Welsh Government because we cannot be sure that all 22 local authorities will do the right thing, thereby protecting vulnerable people.”
Flintshire’s chief officer for social services, Neil Ayling, said: “The amounts that councillors are entitled to are determined and regulated by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and are not set by local councils and, therefore, it is not a fair comparison.
“Ensuring care home fees reflect the cost of care whilst keeping costs within the council’s budget is challenging, and even more so during these difficult economic times.
“Like other North Wales local authorities, Flintshire uses the North Wales fees methodology toolkit for setting the 2022/23 care home fees as a basis for a fee-setting discussion. This methodology seeks to provide commissioners with options for ‘steps towards’ the true cost of care.
“As a local authority, we have accepted the methodology and worked with the funding provider for the council through our Welsh Government settlement. Flintshire remains a very low-funded council, and we are now near the very bottom of the funding table. This, unfortunately, has a huge impact on the funds available to meet the significant challenges faced by the care home and other care providers as well as wider council services
“Flintshire social services are proud of the relationship we have developed with providers of care and support services and never more so than throughout the pandemic. Key to our successful partnerships is our ability to pool our expertise, share our resources and we believe fair reward is only one characteristic of fair work.
“We are committed to working with our care providers to ensure fair fees for a sustainable care sector.”
A spokesman for Denbighshire County Council said: “The information published about expenses for councillors is determined and regulated by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and is not set by county councils.
“The council has made its position on the care home fees clear. It carried out a consultation on increased fees for 2022/23 with its providers. Following important feedback given by the providers, the council launched a further review of the fees. As a result, a decision was taken in June 2022 to recognise this current challenge and therefore additional uplifts to fees were made.
“We have always strongly maintained the position with all of our providers that if they are having any particular difficulties, we would meet with them and undertake an open book exercise to support them.”
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