MAKING it easier for families to care for their relatives at home will be the priority for BCP Council.

Government funding to councils has been cut by nearly two-thirds since 2010, but, as revealed by the Daily Echo and in a recent BBC Panorama special on the 'Crisis in Care', an increase in the care needs of individuals combined with rising costs in homes means local authorities have never been under more pressure. Councillor Lesley Dedman, herself a former care home owner, has been appointed to the adult social care portfolio at the new unitary body.

She says the merger will mean the conurbation's local authority is "more resilient" to cope with rising costs, even though no new money from government is expected to be forthcoming.

"The situation is absolutely dire across the country," she said.

"We are very confident we will have more resilience combined, that was the whole point of the merger, we want to be more resilient in staffing and bring all three care systems under one umbrella."

A big way of reducing costs would be to help people stay out of care homes, she said. "We are pushing now to keep people out of residential care.

"Following on from Bournemouth council, we are on the way to buying a residential home, whether that works out as well as hoped remains to be seen.

"We will have the beds but care home costs go up five per cent per annum, our money doesn't. We want to keep people out of the care system for as long as possible. Families know what is needed, we need to facilitate that."

Cllr Dedman said she hoped the unitary's bid to become a World Health Organisation 'Age Friendly Area' would encourage the community to help "get people the respite they need without having to come to the council".

Asked about care home funding – private homes routinely say councils do not pay enough to cover the costs of supported residents – Cllr Dedman said owners should not expect a sudden windfall. "Councils work out what things should cost and that is what they pay. Care homes are getting bigger, more staff are needed being paid the national living wage. I don't think councils will ever quite catch up with the costs in the larger care homes."

Also, she said, the unitary plans to work more closely with Bournemouth University to take advantage of its research in the field of nutrition, and to make caring a more attractive career prospect.

"It is going to be difficult, and problems could be solved if you just threw money at it, but it is public money and we have to be a little bit more careful with that and find other ways."