The Committee received for pre-scrutiny, a report and presentation on the Children’s Services Revenue Budget 2021/22 (Item 6 in the Minute Book).
Members were taken through the presentation and important key areas of the report were highlighted. The Efficiency and Transformation Programmes of the County Council from previous years was outlined, and it was noted that of the cumulative total savings of £560m to April 2021 for the County Council, it was noted that of this, £122m of savings was children’s specific. The medium term financial strategy position was summarised as well as the impact of Covid on the County Council and the reserves position. It was confirmed that there were no additional savings in this budget round, and details of the current savings programme was also summarised as well as key issues in relation to this.
In relation to children’s services departmental issues and challenges, a number of principles which the department worked to were set out at presentation slide 20, and it was noted that there had been an increase in the demand and cost of services. Presentation slides 21 and 22 illustrated the national and local figures of child protection investigations, conferences and plans, and it was noted that Hampshire was broadly in line with national figures.
The Children’s Services Transformation journey was explained and the reduction in numbers of looked after children and children on a child protection plan was detailed. Pressures relating to Special Educational Needs was highlighted, and the graph at presentation slide 30 detailed the rise in EHCP’s and it was heard that this was also an issue nationally. In conclusion, presentation slides 36 and 37 highlighted the breakdown of figures for the Children’s Services Revenue Budget 2021/22 for schools and non-schools.
In response to questions, Members heard:
· The Government has commissioned a review of SEN reforms which will report later this year, but any financial change would need to tie in with the Government spending review which would be announced in November.
· That there is a High Needs Block deficit but this is not as high when compared to other local authorities. There are measures being taken to try and cap the deficit, but ultimately there needs to be a national solution.
· That it was important to look at the principles for children’s services, which were highlighted earlier in the presentation, and recognise that these haven’t changed in light of budget pressures. The financial support from the County Council Treasury department was also highlighted in terms of managing any ad hoc financial pressures.
· That Government are maintaining a voluntary scheme in relation to unaccompanied asylum seeking children which has put pressure on the budget.
· That a Government announcement last year on the national funding formula, saw an increase to the minimum level of funding per pupil, which would be spread over three years.
· That in relation to pressures on schools, there is an accumulative surplus balance for school budgets in Hampshire which is unevenly spread as the national funding formula favours larger schools as this is based on pupil numbers. Schools that struggle tend to be those less popular or schools in less populated areas.
A vote on the recommendations was held and the majority of the Select Committee supported the recommendations.
That in regard to the 2020/21 Revenue Budget, the Children and Young People Select Committee supported the recommendations being proposed to the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services and Young People.