Highland Council have failed to pay out Scottish Government money intended to support young carers, a councillor has claimed.
Councillor Derek Louden made the claims at Thursday’s meeting of the council’s health, social care and wellbeing committee.
A finance report to the health committee revealed a £1.4m underspend in the council’s family team budget. Of this underspend, £459,000 is attributed to Self-Directed Support (SDS) in the Highlands.
SDS aims to give people control over the type of support they receive, which in many cases is paid out in cash to service users who can use the money to pay for services such as respite care.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Covid restrictions have drastically affected the range and availability of support services for families.
Highland Council says it used the Scottish Government’s ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause to be creative with the SDS support it provided.
However, the council has struggled to spend the money allocated for SDS. The report to the health committee shows a small improvement, but nearly half a million pounds is still unspent.
At a meeting of the full Highland Council on October 28, councillor Louden raised concern regarding SDS. Mr Louden said he had met young carers at a mental health seminar and was shocked to learn that none of the carers received any SDS money.
Mr Louden brought a successful motion which committed the Highland Council to providing SDS, reintroducing respite services and paying SDS directly to young people where appropriate.
However, four months on, Thursday’s report shows little financial movement.
“Maybe with my tongue in my cheek, can I ask how many parsnips the young people providing care have been able to butter so far with the fine words expressed [in the report]?” asked Mr Louden.
“Has any SDS been paid out to young carers?”
Mr Louden sought clarification on what progress the council has made since October.
He added: “At a mental health seminar for young people I promised those children I’d make sure we rolled the SDS payments out to them, and I feel very much that I’ve let them down.”
Fiona Duncan, executive chief officer for health, said the Highland Council is “totally committed” to providing SDS.
She said the council had taken a more flexible approach during Covid. However, Ms Duncan said she did not have specific figures to hand.
Mr Louden pressed the point, saying: “There’s no timeframe being given here at all.
“The Scottish Government provides this money and in other parts of Scotland the money has made it through to young carers.
“I’m looking for a firm commitment and a clear timeframe. I don’t think it’s acceptable for it to be left as a verbal commitment that at some time in the future we’ll deal with this.”
Ms Duncan responded: “We don’t say X, Y and Z is due a payment of £50; we work with them to see what support they need and respond to that accordingly.
“It’s not that we’re not utilising the money or resources we have – we are.”
Vice-chairman David Fraser suggested that the problem should be “followed up offline, very thoroughly.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Louden said: “We passed the motion on October 28, 2021. Nothing has happened.
“Not £1 has escaped from the council into the hands of young carers, despite us having an underspend on children’s services of £2m.
“Decisions of the full council should be implemented in a timely fashion. That clearly hasn’t happened in this case. Why not? When will it happen?
“I’m no clearer now than I was this morning.”