Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/19/30), attached.
(Councillor McInnes attended in accordance with Standing Order 25(1) and spoke to this item at the invitation of the Committee)
The Committee received the In-Year Budget Briefing Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/19/30) outlining those areas of specific pressures on budgets and on action being taken to address this. The Report noted that the budget for the Service had been increased year on year, partly in response to the growth in demand/unit costs and partly to enable important developments, although the latter had also been supported through the earmarking of Business Rates Retention reserve monies.
The Report noted that, at the time of writing, the High Needs Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant was projecting a funding gap for the end of the financial year of £18.8 millions. Both the Council and Government recognised the national context of rapidly increasing demand and a legal framework driving demand without the corresponding investment. The Chancellor, in his 2019 one-year spending review, committed an additional allocation of £700 millions into Local Authority for SEND nationally in 2020/21 and the Council’s share of this funding was confirmed at £5.5 millions.
The Report highlighted that the Council had determined to hold the SEND funding gap on the balance sheet rather than showing it as an overspend, which was in line with proposals currently being consulted upon and, subject to the outcome of this consultation, the Department for Education was proposing that from the end of 2019/20 local authorities must carry forward the whole overspend to the schools budget in future years.
Members noted that Children’s Social Care had seen a sustained increase in the number of children in care, which related more to the rate of children leaving care than to the rate of children entering care. However, adolescent care entry continued to be challenging. Also, School transport and legal disbursements were areas of significant pressure.
The Report highlighted that the Public Health Nursing Service was in-sourced in 2019 and the end of year forecast position for 2019/20 was satisfactory, but costs in future years exceeded the allocated budget, which was fully funded by the Public Health Grant. Work was underway with Public Health and Corporate Services to explore how costs could be brought within budget without staffing reductions.
Members’ discussion points with Officers included:
- that adolescent care entry was higher in Devon compared to other local authorities;
- challenges in the sufficiency of placements and alternative placements; getting the right service at the right time; and the development of an ‘edge of care’ service which was hoped would impact next year;
- the staffing of Public Health Nursing; and
- that assessment of EHCPs were independently reviewed and being confident that threshold was correct.
In response to questions, the Head of Commissioning for Children’s Services advised the Committee that the contract with Young Devon to deliver Early Help for mental health services was a three-year contract which had had two one-year extensions. Being now in the final year of the contract, commissioners were considering future funding arrangements for these services. If future commissioning was taken forward in this area, normal process would be on at least a three-year funding arrangement.
It was MOVED by Councillor Hannaford, SECONDED by Councillor Sellis and
RESOLVED that the Committee welcomed the approach of commissioners to provide longer term funding arrangements for children’s mental health services through future commissioning arrangements.