Yorkshire councils facing child services funding crisis with £34m overspend forecast

Sheffield Council has the second largest overspend in the country for children's services.
Sheffield Council has the second largest overspend in the country for children's services.
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Financially-stretched councils across Yorkshire are collectively set to overspend by more than £34m on services for vulnerable and at-risk children this year, new analysis has revealed.

Analysis of all 150 local authorities that provide social care in England by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and shared with The Yorkshire Post has shown Sheffield Council has the worst projected overspend for 2017/18 at £11.1m - the second highest in the entire country behind Somerset with £14.6m.

Sheffield Council today said it is facing “unprecedented levels of demand” for children’s services. A council report said £8m of the projected overspend was linked to extra spending on care placements.

Six other councils in Yorkshire, including Bradford, Rotherham and Calderdale, are also expecting to be millions over budget for spending on children’s services this financial year, leading experts to warn of the “perilous state” facing such local authority departments across the country. Nationally, nine out of ten councils will spend more money than they bring in by the end of March this year - with over half planning further cutbacks.

The National Children’s Bureau today said councils have been given “woefully inadequate budgets” by the Government to deal with the challenges they are facing.

The findings come as a survey of councils by the Local Government Information Unit reveals that 32 per cent say finding money to pay for children’s social care is their biggest immediate concern - up from seven per cent last year. Around £2.4bn has been cut from children’s services budgets since 2010.

But the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the Government is helping to deliver “higher quality services” in the children’s social care sector.

Councillor Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children, young people and families at Sheffield Council, said: “Our services continue to experience the impact of continued austerity, rising poverty, benefit changes and repeated cuts to the community and voluntary sector, health and schools. At the same time as these cuts, our children and young people’s services are facing unprecedented levels of demand and we are seeing more children and young people coming into care.”

Sheffield Council will invest an extra £7m in children’s social care from April to “help deal with the very real pressures on the service”; money which will go towards early intervention projects designed to reduce demand in the long-term.

A Rotherham Council report due to be discussed at a meeting next week says it is facing a £5.4m overspend - driven by an 18 per cent increase in the number of children going into care since last April, with 576 young people now in this position.

Bradford Council is projecting it will overspend by £3.9 million this year, with increases in the number of looked-after children again cited as a factor.

Calderdale Council is forecasting overspending of £3.5m, Doncaster Council £2.9m, North Yorkshire £2.7m, Wakefield £2.2m and Hull £1.5m.

Leeds Council is preparing to use £1.7m worth of Government funding earlier than planned to help balance the books of its children’s services, which has been dealing with an increase in demand for care placements and higher-than-anticipated staffing costs.

Councillor Lisa Mulherin, Executive Member for Children and Families said: “Since 2010 Children’s Services in Leeds has lost £43m in Government grants, whilst the council overall has had its funding cut by government by over 40 per cent. This has led to some extremely difficult decisions having to be taken. I remain extremely concerned about the level of funding cuts that are still being imposed on Councils and fully support the calls by the Local Government Association, who are predicting a national shortfall of £2bn by 2020, for Children’s Services across country to be properly funded.

“In Leeds political decisions have been made to protect, as far as possible, investment in Children’s Services. We have managed to keep all of our Children’s Centres open and we still have a Youth Service and a School Improvement Service, although they have been reduced because we simply could not afford to maintain them at the levels they were before, at a time when other local authorities have been forced to close, cut or cease to provide them.

“Our focus has been on retaining early intervention services in order to not only save money in the long term but also to secure better outcomes for our children, young people and their families. We have bucked the national trend of an 11 per cent increase in the number of children entering care by safely reducing ours by 13%, saving £13.3m.

“Our budget proposals for 2018/19 show an additional £8.7m going into Children’s Services, with £4m of that allocated to our looked-after children budget, as we continue to prioritise the protection of vital services for vulnerable children, young people and families. A priority that appears not to be shared by central Government.”

Kirklees Council is to put forward a “cost reduction” plan next month to tackle a £4m deficit on Special Education Needs activity.

Dr Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, said: “These stark figures reveal an all-too familiar picture of the perilous state of children’s services. It’s no surprise that they are over-spending as they struggle to cope with slashed budgets and soaring demands.”

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “Local authorities have seen significant cuts to their funding while facing rising demand for children’s services. Budgets are woefully inadequate for the challenges they face.”

'Real-terms increase for councils'

The Government has insisted local councils are being properly supported to deliver effective children’s services in their communities.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “This government is helping the children’s social care sector deliver higher quality services.

“Councils will see a real term increase over the next two years in resources, more freedom and fairness and with a greater certainty to plan and secure value for money.”