28 January 2013
Norfolk County Council’s Cabinet has approved £5 million of extra spending over the next five years to target more support for the county’s growing number of older and vulnerable residents.
The funding, which was agreed at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet this morning (Monday 28 January), will see a ‘Strong and Well’ partnership created, with representatives from Norfolk’s voluntary, housing, health and business sectors working with the County Council to strengthen the support available to older people with emerging social care needs.
Promoting prevention and earlier intervention, whilst at the same time meeting the rising need for care services, is at the heart of the £5m in funding. Norfolk County Council believes that building capacity in communities is no longer just desirable, but essential to the future of public services. The Council aims to inform people who are over the age of 75 about what action they can take for themselves as well as what expectations might be reasonable for communities and community groups to have in order to build resilience.
Central to this extra support will be a new ‘face-to-face’ service that will see home visits by volunteers who will be trained in supporting older people. The Strong and Well Volunteers will inform older people about services and local social opportunities that are available to them, as well as support them to use technology that could benefit them, including the internet.
The 2011 census revealed that 10% of all residents in Norfolk are over 75. According to the Royal College of Physicians people aged 75 are at a greater risk of having a fall, and figures also show that over 75’s represent a significant group in emergency admissions in Norfolk.
Shelagh Gurney, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Services, said: “This funding is fantastic news and will make a huge difference to older people and vulnerable people in the county by providing extra support and enabling communities to help themselves.
“Due to Norfolk’s growing aging population it is inevitable that age-driven demand for care services is going to increase. This will certainly impact on how much of the County Council’s budget is spent on older people. However, this money will allow people to maintain their independence for as long as possible ultimately improving individual well-being, encourage communities to help each other, as well as prevent people from prematurely entering the social care system.”
The Strong and Well partnership will take a proactive approach to encourage individual action as well as community action and recognises that older people do not always access services and social opportunities which are available to them.
Strong and Well will link people to community events, social activities and skills sharing such as intergenerational projects in schools and activities in libraries.
The Strong and Well Volunteers will be able to access a range of interventions as well as help put people in touch with different services, such as: - welfare benefit advice, respite care, fire safety checks and advice, befrienders, carers support and luncheon clubs.
County Council recovers stolen funds for high school
25 January 2013
Over £54,000 has been recovered for a Norfolk high school by Norfolk County Council officers at the end of a dogged four-year pursuit of money stolen by a dishonest school business manager.
The case, which has national implications for the recovery of funds from the Local Government Pension Scheme, followed the conviction in 2008 of Mrs Julie Balls, Downham Market High School's former business manager, who admitted stealing £85,000 from school funds between 1999 and 2006. She was jailed for 18 months.
At the time Norfolk County Council pledged to do everything possible to recover the stolen money for the school. Over £12,000 was paid back from the sale of Mrs Balls' property after Norfolk Constabulary took action under the Criminal Justice Act, the forerunner to the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), but with a significant amount still outstanding, the small team in Norfolk County Council's finance department decided to explore other avenues - including the possibility of reclaiming money from Julie Balls' pension pot held in the Norfolk Pension Fund (a Local Government Pension Scheme fund).
" Our Insurers suggested that changes in the local government pension scheme regulations made in 2008 meant that recovering money from Julie Balls' pension pot might be possible," said Adrian Thompson, Chief Internal Auditor at Norfolk County Council.
"An immediate problem was that we had no precedent - it's not something that has been pursued in this way before by the Council . With no previous cases to guide us and little experience in the field of fund recovery, it's fair to say we went forward cautiously. We had to keep within the time limitations in law for bringing a case, and the action already taken by the police under POCA helped us," said Mr Thompson.
The painstaking work resulted in a case being brought to Norwich County Court in December, with judgment (issued 7 January) ordering that, because of Julie Balls gross misconduct, £54,586 of her pension fund must be paid to the Governing Body of Downham Market High School. Costs of £4,796 were awarded to the claimants.
"It has been quite a saga, and a collective effort involving staff across Norfolk County Council, including Internal Audit, the Schools' Finance Team, NPLaw and Norfolk Pension Fund. A number of people have contributed to this success by working well beyond their normal duties," said Adrian Thompson. "It's a very satisfying result after all this time. For Downham Market High School, this will be a welcome boost for 2013, but there are also wider implications for the recovery of funds where there has been misconduct by a staff member who has funds in the local government pension scheme (LGPS). I plan to share the knowledge and methodology we have developed to help other councils with the recovery of some of the millions of pounds lost to fraud each year nationally."
Jon Ford, Headteacher at Downham Market High School, said, "The Governors and I are extremely pleased with this outcome. It is a great result for the school, its students and staff, and we are extremely grateful to Adrian Thompson and his team who simply would not give up and were prepared to try new approaches to recovering the school's money. We can now move forward and concentrate all our efforts in the areas that we should, without the distractions of this case."
Alison Thomas, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, said "The County Council is determined that crime, especially one that affects our children, should not pay. This theft deprived the school of a significant sum that should have been helping to ensure a high quality education for its pupils. I am very pleased that all the efforts put in by officers have paid off so handsomely, and that the school and its pupils will benefit from this judgment."
Harry Humphrey, Cabinet Member for Resources said, "We have zero tolerance where there are cases of fraud and theft. The County Council has worked tirelessly to support the school and to ensure that the loss is recovered. The protection of public funds is very important to us, and we are delighted that the courts have made this ruling."
Shelagh Hutson, County Councillor for Downham Market, said: “I am delighted to learn of the success in retrieving a large proportion of the sum misappropriated by a member of staff a few years ago. Punishment of offenders in cases like these should always include every effort to reclaim missing funds and I congratulate all involved in doggedly pursuing this matter to a successful conclusion. I hope this example will be a warning to others.”