Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/22/17), attached.
The Chief Executive and the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Schools both attended to speak to the report, stating that the financial situation was the worse the Council had faced for many years. There was however an enormous amount of work going on in the Service to ensure that real improvements would be made.
The Committee then considered the Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services, which set out the key budget issues for the Service identifying risks and actions to mitigate.
At month 2, it had been reported that the Council faced a financial pressure of £30.5 million with a further risk linked to inflation volatility of around £10 million. At month 6, the Council was facing a comparable in-year deficit of £33 million.
A cross-organisational Financial Sustainability Programme had been set up to identify and deliver savings to address the in-year overspend and identify ways to stabilise financial sustainability. The impact of this work had identified £26.5 million of further savings and additional income that revised the total forecast overspend down to £6.3 million.
The combined pressures on the service of demand in SEND, the increase in high-cost placements for children in care and school transport costs were significant but consistent with the national context.
A priority for Children’s Services continued to be to ensure that vulnerable children were supported and protected and to create a future in a Child Friendly Devon where all children and young people were safe, loved and thrived and had equal access to opportunities to meet their full potential.
Members’ questions and discussion points included:
- The Government’s Autumn Statement would be announced on Thursday of this week and although not known it was assumed that more spending cuts would be announced.
- The majority of the £26.5 million identified as further savings were one-off savings by delaying work, e.g. the Adult Care First software system was due to be replaced: this would now be delayed.
- Regular reviews of high cost placements had been strengthened to ensure correct charging levels; and providers’ rates more robustly challenged. Case studies of placements would be provided to a future meeting.
- Devon was hindered by high property prices in the County.
- A placement sufficiency strategy was currently being worked on, informed by the review of high cost placements; and also bids to the Department for Education for capital funding for developing in-house residential works.
- The recruitment drive for foster carers continued, following the interruption from the pandemic, supported by the Mockingbird programme, however, the fostering team remained under-funded in relation to recruitment.
- Exeter Chiefs had agreed to support Devon with its foster caring campaign.
- The importance of early intervention and for local schools to become more inclusive thus saving transport costs.
- Agency social workers received the same induction, training and performance management as permanent staff, tracked through auditing.
- Concern that Exeter University were not offering training for social workers, and the Cabinet Member agreed to follow this up with the Vice-Chancellor.
- Concern that the Memorandum of Understanding across the South West on agency pay rates was not effective. The Chief Executive asked the Acting Director to follow this up in regional ADCS meetings.
- In-house school transport was being considered and four people carriers were currently being trialled for special needs transport with early indications showing that costs were being saved. Use of the high cost social care placement transport and NHS transport was also being considered.
It was MOVED by Councillor Hannaford, SECONDED by Councillor Bullivant and
RESOLVED that the Committee:
(a) Places on record its continuing concern about the significant overspend in Children's Services, the SEND Dedicated Schools Grant overspend in Month 6 and the rate of contract relinquishing and inflation affecting the School Transport budget.
(b) Re-states its concern from the Committee meeting on 18 January 2022 relating to the realism of achieving savings considering the cost of living pressures, and looks forward to the anticipated report to Cabinet in December regarding Children's Centres and the Government's funding intentions on Thursday 17 November.
(c) Welcomes the hard work of officers to identify and realise savings.
(d) Welcomes the opportunity to be sighted on case studies of children in placements at a future meeting.
(e) Welcomes the work of officers to improve the universal offer within schools to improve inclusion.
(f) Supports the Council's work on in-house provision in transport and piloting of placements of children in care to reduce the overspends in these areas and improve market sufficiency.