Planned increases in charges for meals on wheels, community alarms and local authority day care in Fife have been scrapped.
Councillors on the region’s executive committee agreed to freeze fees for service users despite pressure to hike up the charges.
The decision means an estimated £287,000 of income which would have been generated will now not be realised, putting more strain on the region’s health and social care partnership which, as revealed by The Courier on Friday, is already facing a £23.6 million budget gap.
Three options were presented to committee members and it had looked last week like councillors would back a “minimal” increase which would have seen community alarm charges go up from £2 per week to £2.50, meals on wheels and day care charges rise from £3.75 to £4.25, and residential home costs elevated from £914 to £947 per week from April 10.
Councillors voted 14-3 in favour of retaining the status quo, meaning cash will have to be found from elsewhere to help meet the shortfall.
Council leader David Ross, who proposed the motion to freeze the charges, explained: “The whole point of this is that we should not be getting the users of these services, some of whom are the most vulnerable, to subsidise a budget gap.
“The danger we would have there is that people will start saying ‘I don’t want that’, ‘I don’t want to use this service’, and that will add up more and more problems for the rest of the system.
“At the end of the day, if the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) don’t feel they can manage and they have a shortfall, they have the facility to come back to the council at a later date and look at how that could be addressed.
“But I don’t think we should be putting the burden again on those who receive meals on wheels, local authority day care and community alarms.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Brett proposed the minimal increase should be pursued, citing his concern over the impact on social care budgets.
“If we don’t do this then we’re simply dumping on the IJB to find more money from somewhere else,” he said, suggesting that May’s council elections may have been the “driving force” behind the freeze.
Mr Brett added the proposed increase would only take the cost of community alarms to £2.50 a week, which compared favourably with other council areas like Edinburgh, where the cost is £5.80 per week, Angus (£4.75) and and Dumfries and Galloway (£3.60).
Cupar councillor Bryan Poole agreed, adding: “Services which are already creaking are going to struggle to cope if we don’t put it up.”
However, councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the current charges.
A higher increase which would have seen community alarm costs go up by £1 and meals on wheels and day care rise by £1.25 per week was dismissed, as was a “full cost recovery” option which could have seen community alarm charges more than double to £4.22 per week, local authority day care costs rise more than double to £8 per week, and meals on wheels charges pushed up to £5.94 per week.