853 exclusive: Healthcare chiefs threatened to call auditors in after accusing Greenwich Council of moving government money meant for social care into its general fund, an investigation for 853 has discovered.
Greenwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) raised worries that over £21m had been put into the social care budget and then taken out again under the guise of savings.
The disagreement came a year before the council cut services and increased charges for some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents as part of a package of cuts to its social care budget.
Investigative reporter Yohannes Lowe discovered correspondence between the council and the CCG as part of a four-month project backed by The Centre for Investigative Journalism and the charity Trust for London to support community news outlets including 853.
Lowe spoke to campaigners and those who have suffered as a result of the budget cuts, including users of the Telecare service who fear they will not be able to access the help they need after increased charges were brought in.
The letter from Neil Kennett-Brown, the head of Greenwich CCG, sent in January 2019, said that government funding – the Better Care Fund, which is ring-fenced for social care – appeared to be “being used to support your cuts and not fund additional services”.
“This is a very serious situation and we may invite our auditors to review this,” he said.
After meeting council officers, Kennett-Brown wrote a second letter the following month, saying that he was “not at all assured” that £21.4m of ring-fenced government money – including a second pot, the Improved Better Care Fund (iBCF), which is paid directly to councils – was being spent on social care.
“It appears from the budget statement that monies have been nominally ‘put in’ and then ‘taken out’ as savings,” he said.
Kennett-Brown sought assurances that the savings had not temporarily been put into the adult social care pot, only to then be transferred to a central fund to address what it called a “perceived” council overspend.
Campaigners also raised concerns about the treatment of this money when the cuts were being discussed by councillors on Greenwich’s health and social care scrutiny panel in January 2020.
Minutes from an internal meeting from December 2018 seen by 853 show the council’s chief executive, Debbie Warren, gave a presentation which said that “in practice, the £13m iBCF was used to cover this savings target”.
Campaigners are angry about the lack of transparency over the funding of their services.
“I feel a great betrayal of trust by Greenwich Council about the way funding which was meant for social care has gone into the general pot,” Anne Novis of Greenwich Disabled People Against Cuts (Greenwich DPAC) said.
“The whole reason and justification for increasing care charges was lack of funds.
“How can we trust people when smoke and mirrors hide the truth? Yet these are the people our very lives depend upon.”
NHS South East London CCG, which took over Greenwich CCG last year, said: “The concerns regarding the Better Care Fund were resolved in April 2019.”
It declined to elaborate on how the concerns were resolved.
Greenwich Council told 853 that the £13m referred to in the budget recovery board meeting related to a “transformation” programme in the adult social care department which dated from 2015, before the iBCF was introduced.
A spokesperson added: “While adult social care funding is spent from the general fund, both BCF and iBCF funding are applied to adults’ resources for use on adult social care. The use of funding grants is signed off jointly, with integrated commissioning across the council and the CCG.
“The Royal Borough of Greenwich and Greenwich CCG have worked, and continue to work, closely together in the delivery of services to residents. The CCG is content with arrangements and the council’s accounts are signed off by the independent external auditor.” (See the full response from Greenwich Council.)
5.10pm update: A Greenwich Council spokesperson added after this story was published: “The council reaffirms its previous response on this matter which was supplied to 853 on 15 October 2021.
“It would not be appropriate for the council to make any further comment as this matter is the subject of ongoing court proceedings in the Employment Tribunal. The same applies to any other party involved in the proceedings.”
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