CARERS in Lancashire have criticised a county council decision to raise fees for caring for the elderly in its homes by eight per cent while only giving independent providers a three per cent rise.

The county council's proposed social services budget for the 1999/2000 financial year shows that the cost of residential care for elderly people in its own homes will rise from £280 to £304 per week.

By comparison, the county council has only granted a three per cent rise in fees for the same care it buys from independent sector homes, from £218.50 to £225 per week.

The Lancashire Care Association, which represents independent sector homes, had asked the county council for a six per cent rise in fees.

Frank Hessey, chairman of the LCA said: "This decision by the council demonstrates their contempt for working in partnership with the biggest providers of residential and nursing care.

"The council continues to waste £1.7 million of taxpayers' money by giving its own homes a rise of five per cent more than outside contractors. "By this move the council is trying to drive quality down in the independent sector at a time when government policy is to ensure the most vulnerable elderly people receive a high standard of care.

"While the Government is pressing local councils to achieve value for the money it spends, Lancashire continues to waste public money and hence has to restrict the amount of care it can purchase.

"After six years of mismanaging community care in Lancashire it is high time the external auditors of the council asked some fundamental questions about the way Lancashire runs its £250 million a year budget."

County Councillor Doreen Pollit, chairman of the county's social services committee, said care association requests had been linked with costs of the soon-to-be introduced minimum wage and paid holidays.

She added: "If we had acceded to the demands of the care association it would have meant losing £4.2 million from the social services budget and 18 homes having to close. That would have meant job losses and moving a lot of elderly people."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.