To consider the report of the Director of Children’s Services and Director of Corporate Resources prior to the decision of the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services.
The Committee received a report and presentation on the Children’s Services Revenue Budget (Item 9 in the Minute Book). The representative of the Director of Children’s Services took Members through the presentation slides and highlighted key aspects of the medium term financial strategy (MTFS) position, and it was noted that there was an anticipated delay in some elements of the delivery of cash release for the Tt2019 programme which was factored into the MTFS. Attention was also drawn to the 2.99% increase in council tax which was the maximum amount permitted and in line with the referendum limit. The key aspects of the Chancellor’s budget in relation to Children’s Services were also highlighted, as well as key aspects of the provisional local government finance settlement for 2019/20. In relation to this, it was noted that the NHB baseline figure was maintained at 0.4%, with the HCC allocation at £4.9m which was built into the MTFS. It was also explained that £2.993m had been allocated for additional funding for each of the next two years for the high needs block.
Key features of the reserves strategy were explained and it was noted that more than half of the total reserves at £338.6 million were committed to existing revenue programmes and capital spend. Members noted the £27.6 million set aside to mitigate risks and the detailed breakdown of available reserves. It was highlighted that an unallocated balance of £29.4 million would prepare for future draws beyond 2020. The key message from children’s services in relation to Transforming the Council to 2019 was that there was no new savings proposals to consider as part of the budget setting process as these had all been achieved in advance.
Cllr Steve Forster left the meeting at this point in proceedings.
The Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services spoke to this item and stated that the County Council couldn’t predict extra funding but would continue to make extra representations.
In response to Member questions it was heard:
· That even though services were stable, there were always immediate risks and structural risks to services. Structural risks were seen as relatively low risk, and transformation to 2019 had helped to address these with £6.5 million spent on front line social work. In relation to risks, it was noted that sudden external factors could be hard to anticipate.
· In relation to unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), there wasn’t public funding available for this, but it was a statutory duty to provide care when cases arose, and to have a good amount of monetary reserves to address unexpected pressures. This also remained a significant pressure and had the number of UASC had significantly increased since last year.
· That whilst some risks couldn’t be pre-empted, children’s safety would never be put in danger.
· That the predicted rate of children being looked after was just under 50 per 10,000, and there was a need to invest to have the right services to meet demand, and to plan this at the earliest possible stage.
· That the number of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were significantly increasing, something which had also been experienced at a national level.
· That work was being undertaken with independent schools to look to reduce costs incurred by spot purchasing placements, and replace this with block purchasing.
· That in relation to post-16 care, a raft of initiatives designed to reduce higher cost out of county placements for children were underway.
· That in relation to Youth Justice, it was noted that a grant is received from the Youth Justice Board.
· That once a child reaches the age of 18, they could then stay with their foster carers, but this would mean that there would be one less foster place available as a result.
· That in relation to the cost of Tribunal cases, this was a national issue and not Hampshire specific.
· That some parents preferred to keep their children in mainstream school who have an Education, Health and Care plan, and other parents preferred more specialist learning environments when mainstream schools may be appropriate.
· That there were plans in place to mitigate the pressures of increasing demand, but there would be increasing pressures in light of government funding cuts.
With regard to the recommendation in the report, a number of additional recommendations to the Executive Lead Member were proposed by Councillor Jackie Porter and seconded by Councillor Malcolm Wade, who set them out to the Committee:
That the Select Committee:
- ‘Notes the pressures on school budgets and urge the Executive Lead Member to lobby Government for more support for schools, especially the High Needs block funding’.
- ‘Recommends that the Executive Lead Member notes the non-schools revised budget for 2018/19 has been increased to meet service needs of young people, as the County Council’s statutory duties to meet those needs has risen’.
- ‘Recommends that in the knowledge of that observation, the Executive Lead Member will reconsider that decision to be taken today to cut the 2019/20 non-schools budget which is £10.2 million from the original 2018/19 budget, and £15.24 million less that the revised budget – which is a cut of 8.8%’.
- ‘Recommends that the budget for 2019/20 reflects the additional needs with realism, and requests that the Executive Lead Member allocates a budget of £167.041 million holding the original 2018/19 budget’.
A vote was held on all four points collectively, with the outcome:
Subsequently, Councillor Chadd proposed and Councillor James seconded an addition to the recommendation in the report, that:
The Select Committee:
‘Notes the pressures on school budgets and urge the Executive Lead Member to lobby Government for more support for schools, especially the High Needs block funding’
A vote was held with the outcome
The revised recommendation was considered and agreed. It was
That the Children and Young People Select Committee:
- support the recommendations being proposed to the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services in section 1 of the report.
- notes the pressures on school budgets and urges the Executive Lead Member to lobby Government for more support for schools, especially the High Needs block funding.