To consider the report of the Director of Corporate Services and Director of Children's Services prior to the decision of the Executive Lead Member for Children's Services.
The Director of Children’s Services and a representative of the Director of Corporate Resources attended before the Committee in order to present the revenue budget for Children’s Services for 2018/19 (see report and presentation, Item 6 in the Minute Book).
The presentation outlined the overall County Council financial position. The local government grant settlement announced in 2016 provided provisional figures for authorities for the following three financial years, including 2018/19, to aid financial planning, and the settlement for 2018/19 was mostly unchanged compared to the forecast position. Since this time, however, a pay offer had been made for local government workers of 2% per annum, and changes to the lower pay grades to reflect the move to the National Living Wage. This element was not costed in the finance settlement, and therefore consideration would need to be given as to how to meet this ongoing cost pressure.
There would be a significant draw down from the Grant Equalisation Reserve in 2018/19 in order to support the savings required as part of Transformation to 2019. In a change from previous years, the Government had changed the Council Tax precept cap, enabling a potential increase of 2.99% without consultation, plus 2% for social care. This development would be discussed by Cabinet in February.
A fair funding review had been announced by Government, which would see a consultation on how local government would be financed in future. This review promised to implement any changes by 2020/21. Also announced was a green paper on funding adult social care, although this would not result in any new funding in this area for 2018/19.
An overview of the Council’s reserves strategy and financial position was provided, which set out that of the £524.2m held, approximately £79.4m, or 15.1% of the reserves, were truly ‘available’ to support one-off spending, although most of this was already allocated.
Members received an update on progress against the ‘Transformation to 2019’ proposals, as requested in November 2017. As previously noted, Children’s Services would be receiving cashflow support from County Treasurers to enable delivery of the £30m of savings required from the Department. This was in part due to the need to phase the savings up to 2022/23, owing to efficiencies for the most part being linked to work around ‘partners in practice’ and safely reducing the number of looked after children. As part of the Transformation to 2019 programme, the Department would be leading two consultations; one on short breaks activities, and one on home to school transport.
Members heard details on the proposed 2018/19 budget for Children’s Services. The priorities for the Department remained the same and had been essential in focusing resource where it was most needed. Many of the key Departmental issues and challenges were not new and had previously been discussed with the Committee. The Department would continue to work to manage increasing demand for children’s services, working hard to continue to keep children safe. As previously reported, the issue of unaccompanied asylum seekers was an additional factor impacting on the budget, as the budget accompanying such children were estimated to only cover half of the specialist support costs incurred through their placements. Overviews were also provided of work ongoing within the children with disabilities and home to school transport services.
The main factor impacting on Children’s Services continued to be the rising demand for services against a backdrop of reducing resources, with the number of children in care continuing to increase. An overview was provided to Members of how the new resilience-based model developed through ‘partners in practice’ would work, and how the number of children in care could be safely reduced, although places would always be available for children who required them.
In considering the more detailed Children’s Services revenue budget, and in response to questions, Members heard:
· That almost all of the organisations involved within the ‘partners in practice’ work operated within the Hampshire boundary, as most were community services and not hospital-based.
· Within the first phase of the ‘partners in practice’ work, the Department had reviewed the resource needed to make the new model successful, and as part of this had set up a graduate scheme for social workers. This scheme recruited newly-qualified social workers, and provided them with a clear training programme which enabled them to be trained, move around service areas to get a good overview of the social worker role, and to assist on cases. At the end of January 2018, 19 new social workers would graduate from this scheme, with a further 20 due to finish at the end of May, and a further 20 in October. This scheme was proving very popular, and would help tackle the overspend on agency workers by providing ‘home grown’ talented social workers.
· A placement would be made available to any child whose needs required this support; the aspiration of the new model was to implement early interventions through multi-disciplinary working reducing the likelihood of children needing more specialist care, as preventative work could help tackle the issues before they become critical. Of the current cohort of looked after children, 40% were teenagers. As historic data showed that those over 13 do not fare as well in life as their peers outside of the care system, it was important to safely reduce the number of older children in care, returning them to their families where this was safe and appropriate. The solution to doing this was to provide greater support to families earlier on, learning from programmes such as Troubled Families where this model had been very successful.