Agenda item

Overall Approach


The 2023/24 budget proposals will be scrutinised with consideration of relevant service area budgets by Scrutiny Committees with the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee considering both its own budget responsibilities as well as any issues raised by the Children’s Scrutiny Committee and the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, to produce an overarching set of recommendations.


This approach enables all Scrutiny Members to question and challenge the budget proposals across services, to better understand the implications of the budget proposals across the Council and to make effective recommendations to Cabinet and Council.


The proceedings of all Scrutiny Committees will be livestreamed and publicised through normal channels.


The Council must have full regard to and consider the impact of any proposals in relation to equalities prior to making any decisions, as set out in equality impact assessments, and any identified risks and mitigation action required.


Public Participation


There will be an opportunity for members of the public to address each Scrutiny Committee meeting and make oral representations/presentations on any matter relating to the proposed budget, in line with the public participation scheme.


This Meeting


At this and other Scrutiny Committees in the current cycle, Members are asked to identify salient issues within each Committee’s areas of responsibility, to examine the general thrust of the budget and take an overview of priorities and prospects.


At this meeting Directors / Heads of Services will report on


·         the Cabinet’s Target Budget for Services and likely implications of the 2023/24 target for individual areas of service (e.g. in percentage terms compared to current levels) and how those areas have been prioritised;


·         any comparisons between the current year and next year’s proposals for the major service areas, to illustrate the scale of change within those activities and how the budget has been allocated across services in those years (to illustrate changes of emphasis or priority);


·         any “alternative delivery models” or other initiatives contemplated for given services and how it is thought that these may reduce costs; and


·         impact assessments undertaken in relation to the draft budget.


Report and Budget 2023/24 Impact Assessment


Joint Report of the Director of Finance and Public Value and Chief Officer for Children’s Services (DF/23/04) on the proposed budget for Children’s Services for 2023/24, attached.


NB: An overview of the impact assessments for all service areas entitled Budget 2023/24 Impact Assessment has been made available to all Members of the Council so that Scrutiny Committees have access to all equality impact assessments undertaken as part of the budget’s preparation.  Members are asked to consider the contents and retain it for future meetings, accepting that individual assessments may be updated with time.  Members must have full regard to and consider the impact of any proposals in relation to equalities for this (and other) budget meeting prior to making any decisions.  Scrutiny Committees will no doubt wish to be assured that risk assessments and projections are adequate and that the evidence supports the assumptions made in the formulation of the budget.



The Committee noted that the proposed budget for the 2023/24 financial year would be scrutinised by individual Scrutiny Committees.


The Chairs of the Children’s Scrutiny Committee and the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee would present any relevant resolutions and an overview of those issues arising to the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Committee.  This Committee would also consider the draft budget proposals within its own remit, providing an opportunity for Scrutiny Members to comment on proposals for the Council’s Budget in its entirety. The resulting resolutions from Scrutiny will be reported to Cabinet and Council.


This would follow the opportunity for individual Scrutiny Committees – at this meeting – to have an initial overview of the budget proposals and examine them to identify any specific issues or areas of interest that might be considered at the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Committee for incorporation into any recommendations to Cabinet and Council.


The Committee then considered the joint report of the Director of Finance and Public Value and the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (DF/23/04) on the provisional financial settlement made by Government and the spending targets set by the Cabinet for each service area which included inflation, commitments and any service prioritisation reductions. The Report also detailed the proposed medium-term capital programme for Children’s Services and how it was funded.


The Cabinet, at its meeting of 11 January 2023, had set Revenue Budget targets for 2023/24. That Report outlined the targets in paragraph 3.8 which represented a net increase in service budgets of £66.2 million, which was a 10.5% increase.


As detailed within budget monitoring reports, significant pressures had been and were continuing to be experienced within Devon and across the country. The cost of living and geopolitical situation had created huge financial pressures nationally. As a consequence, the authority had faced unprecedented price and demand pressures in the current year and although significant savings had been found to offset this many had been one off measures. In addition, there had been much more uncertainty in terms of central government funding to local government, combined with the most challenging budget round that the Authority had faced in recent decades.


Budget monitoring at month 2 identified an unprecedented forecast overspend and therefore since the month 2 report, a Financial Sustainability Programme had been set up to address the level of overspending. The programme had been successful in containing some expenditure and making savings, which was reflected in a significantly improved outturn forecast by month 8.


The Capital Programme for 2023/24 to 2027/28 would be presented to Cabinet at the February Budget meeting.


On 19 December 2022, the Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, released a written Ministerial statement to Parliament setting out the provisional local government finance settlement for 2023/24 financial year. This was in line with the Spending Review 2021 and updated for the announcements made in the Autumn Statement of 17 November 2022.


The provisional local government finance settlement for 2023/24 was a single year settlement, as was the previous year. Government had outlined national funding levels for 2024/25 but uncertainty remained at individual council level, as distribution mechanisms for 2024/25 were unconfirmed.


The provisional settlement confirmed that the Core Spending Power included the flexibility in setting Council Tax for 2023/24 by setting the referendum limit at 2.99% and that social care authorities could increase the adult social care precept by 2% - and therefore raise Council Tax by up to 4.99% overall without a referendum being required.


Devon’s Core Funding of £107.2 million (and grants announced so far) was as follows. Other existing grants were expected to be published soon and would be reported as part of the overall budget papers in February, if known by then.



Revenue Support Grant


Business Rates Central Government Top Up


Business Rates - Local Element


Core Funding


New Homes Bonus


Rural Services Delivery Grant


Social Care Grant


Improved Better Care Fund


Adult Social Care Market Sustainability Improvement  Fund


Adult Social Care Discharge Fund


Services Grant






The proposed service revenue budget targets for the 2023/24 financial year were set out in the table below.




The Committee were reminded that its consideration of the draft Children’s Services budget was just part of the process of setting the County Council’s budget which, following this meeting, would culminate in the Cabinet meeting on 10 February 2023 formulating a budget for consideration by the County Council on 16 February 2023.


The Cabinet Member and the Committee welcomed the increase in funding and the need for it to be spent wisely and in an intelligent way, with close monitoring.  As Corporate Parents, all Members had a vested interest in ensuring each child had a better future.  The Cabinet Member, as a member of the F40 group, continued to press for fair funding for Devon.


The Leadership Group commentary in the Report highlighted how urgent action taken over the past year to cut own costs and find savings coupled with the welcome additional funding in the government’s provisional financial settlement had certainly helped to mitigate some pressures, but many challenges remained.  The next 12 months would continue to be to work with partners to meet the needs of the young, old and most vulnerable across Devon.


The Chief Officer for Children’s Services referred to service specific issues as outlined in the Report, relating to Children’s Social Care, Public Health Nursing, Education Learning and Inclusion Services, and Schools Funding.


The Report also contained the detailed budget proposals for Children’s Services, prepared in line with the targets referred to above, reflecting the different pressures and influences faced by services.  The Children’s Services base budget was £208,603 millions (a net increase of 18.4% from 2022/23), and included inflation, National Living Wage and other pressures of £9,585 millions and £32,376 millions respectively, and required savings and additional income of £9,563 millions.


Under the Equality Act 2010, the County Council had a legal duty to give due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations when making decisions about services. Where relevant, Impact Assessments were carried out to consider how best to meet this duty, which included mitigating against the negative impact of service reductions.


The Report before the Committee referred to the Budget 2023/24 Impact Assessment, circulated prior to the meeting, giving an overview of the impact assessments for all service areasfor the attention of Members so they were aware of the equality impact assessments undertaken as part of the budget’s preparation, that any risk assessments and projections were adequate and the evidence supported the assumptions made in the formulation of the budget.  Also bearing in mind that the preparation of Impact Assessments were a dynamic process and that individual assessments for specific proposals may need to be updated with time, Members of the Council must have full regard to and consider the impact of any proposals in relation to equalities prior to making any decisions and any identified significant risks and mitigating action required.


Specific issues and observations arising from the current budget proposals and other operational matters affecting Children’s Services raised at the meeting included the following:


Children Social Care:


-    Overall, the budget increase was welcomed, but close monitoring was required and to this end monthly meetings with Scrutiny and Finance would be arranged.


-    Concern at the pace of change in the Children’s Services and that delivery of change should be carried out much more quickly and robustly.


-    Concern at the School Transport savings, as numbers requiring transport were increasing.


-    All Members were encouraged to attend the Corporate Parenting Forums, in their role as corporate parents.


-    Suggestion that the Scrutiny Committee meetings take place in rotation around the County, in addition to the Scrutiny visits already planned.


-    As a result of the additional £20 million investment, the Placement Sufficiency Strategy would be reviewed, led by the Head of Corporate of Parenting and the Head of Commissioning. A multiagency Placement forum was held twice a week reviewing current placements and support packages, with significant savings already having been made from high cost placements.


-       There was discussion around the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.


-    Special Guardianship and Adoption arrangements would also form part of the Sufficiency Strategy review.


-    It was noted that the cross cutting corporate and other savings of £144,000 at paragraph 5.11.5 of the report was not connected to the Children’s Centres and should have been on a separate line.


-    A review of Early Help would be carried out of which children’s centres would form part to ensure a joined up response for children in Devon; and the contract had been extended for a year to enable that review to be undertaken.


-    As to workforce recruitment and retention:


o   There were currently 10 unfilled social worker vacancies, which was a significant improvement on the previous year, although recruitment of agency and permanent staff was needed to create stability in the workforce.

o   Caseloads were more manageable and had reduced to an average of 16, a considerable reduction over 2021/22.

o   A permanent workforce was now needed to be worked on with a reduction in the number of agency workers. With improved benefits now in place, it was hoped to attract more permanent staff to Devon.

o   It was hoped that by 2024 the Council would have its own ‘home grown’ cohort of social workers.


-    Phase 1 of the Leadership reshape (tiers 3 and 4) had now been concluded and successful recruitments made to nine of the 10 heads of service posts, therefore, high cost project teams were no longer needed. The Committee welcomed the stability this would bring to the Service.


Public Health Nursing


-    The Service were not experiencing any issues post-pandemic; indeed the Care Quality Commission had just published its report on the good work of the Service.


-    Members queried whether any part of this budget would be used for Early Help for mental health in schools and Officers confirmed this would be considered as part of the current review on the Early Help offer; also that the Department for Education were offering grants for eligible schools to train mental health leads.


Education Learning and Inclusion Services


-    Schools Transport now had an in-house provision of four vehicles that would achieve significant savings through the year.


-    The Independent Travel team trained young people with additional needs to use public transport, thereby improving life skills and saving taxi costs.


-    Improved confidence in the Stagecoach service meant that more young people using public transport could be reinstated.


-    There were no changes in eligibility for schools transport this year, although an increase in fees for post-16 and concessionary passengers was currently being consulted upon, however Members voiced concern that any increases should not deter young people and vulnerable families from accessing education.


Schools Funding


-    Concern at the continued budget pressures in relation to SEND, largely due to the increasing demand for an EHCP - there were currently just under 8,500 EHCPs in Devon.


-    Concern at the backlog of EHCP assessments, although interim staff were coming in to progress these.


-    Concern at the increased numbers of permanently excluded children from primary schools with SEND needs, following a return to school post-pandemic, and the provision of alternative provision.


-    Members welcomed the new Special School provision.


-    Concern at the delay in receiving a decision from Government as to the Safety Valve Intervention Initiative.  The Cabinet Member reported that he was due to meet the Minister next week to discuss.


It was MOVED by Councillor Hannaford, SECONDED by Councillor Sanders and


RESOLVED that the Committee


Welcomes and supports:


1.  The 18.4% increase in the budget for Children’s Services and the Committee looks forward to seeing the resulting improvement in Children’s Services.


2.  The efforts of Children’s Services staff to continue to support Children in Devon and delivering services through restorative practice.


3.  The endeavours of the Cabinet Member as a member of the F40 group to continue to press for fairer funding for Devon’s Children.


Record concern:


4.  The realism of achieving the £9.6 million in-year savings and particularly the £2.6 million from school transport, anticipating the fees and charges review; whilst appreciating the service has embedded Scrutiny's previous comments and now provides in-house transport.


5.  Uncertainty around senior leadership changes in Children’s Services in supporting the pace of change of the authority to rise to meet the challenges in Children’s and the resulting pressure on the budget.


6.  The continued reliance on agency staff, acknowledging the progress made in permanent staff recruitment to reduce this.


7.  The ongoing uncertainty with government regarding the SEND high needs block safety value process considering the cumulative deficit of £127 million to the end of the current financial year.


Cabinet be asked to:


8.  Explore the expansion of curriculum support and mental health provision to schools, with a view to providing a broader curriculum creating a positive learning environment for all pupils and especially those with Social Emotional and Mental Health Needs to reduce permanent exclusions and improve attendance.


9.  Support the Children’s Scrutiny Committee in their critical friend challenge of the in-year financial position with monthly monitoring reporting to Committee to include direction of travel and value for money in the following areas:

-          EHCPs

-          External Care and SEND placements

-          Recruitment and Retention / Agency figures

-          School transport

and trialling this governance approach for 3 months.


10.Increase the pace of work to support the needs of key workers by working with Devon stakeholders to embed an essential offer including accommodation, training and travel.  The Scrutiny Committee strongly believes that this will help ease the financial burden on the authority.










The Meeting started at 10.30 am and finished at 1.05 pm


Supporting documents: