By Matthew Griffin
Oct. 25, 2016
It's a hot day, one of the rare few in London, when I meet David Wilde, the Essex County Council's CIO, for a round of coffees and a chat to discuss how he and his team are making a difference to the people of Essex and helping the county government get through turbulent times.
The global recession changed the world, and the Essex County Council felt one of the hammer blows in October 2010, when the U.K. government announced its austerity program. The ECC's budget, like every county council's budget, was decimated, threatening the viability of almost every service, from policing to welfare, that the county council delivered to the county's 1.4 million residents.
Five years on and £500 million in savings later, the ECC's annual budget of £2.2 billion is still the second largest in the U.K., but the cuts are by no means over. By 2018, they will have to find another £185 million of additional savings, but in all likelihood they will still have a £100 million social care funding gap.
One of their most important duties is to provide high-quality, compassionate care for vulnerable elderly individuals. But as budgets continue to fall, this is one service that, without the right intervention, could have easily ended in the face of an endless cycle of decline. Driving the cost of residential care down can only go so far, so something else needed to happen. One answer is to become a property investor.
The council had a dilemma. On the one hand, their residential care costs were rising as the existing private and social housing stock for supported living could not meet demand, while on the other hand they were faced with an increasingly aging population who, more often than not, want to be cared for in their own homes. Both sides of the coin needed investment and resources that were becoming increasingly scarce.
Against the backdrop of many commercial companies' apparent inability to think outside the box, the council's intervention and subsequent vision, supported by Wilde and a diverse team from across the organization, produced a step change in the way that the elderly will be cared for and the way in which secondary care will be delivered across the county. Technology is the enabler, but the real challenge will be the execution.
The vision is to build the best that today's connected home and telehealth technologies have to offer into the fabric of 2,500 new homes. In today's market, it costs the council between £600 and £800 per week to provide individual care, and retrofitting these new technologies into older housing stock costs at least £6,000 per installation. By incorporating these technologies into new houses when they're built, however, the cost falls to £2,500 and £50 per week in monitoring.