£1.8m boost for cash-strapped children’s services

Date published: 15 December 2018

A £1.8m government grant is set to be ploughed into the borough’s cash-strapped children’s services.

Social care for children in Rochdale is currently facing a £4.8m blackhole – and increasing pressure on the service means the situation is only forecast to get worse.

The overspend is mainly down to increased numbers of cared for children – some of whom have to be looked after outside the borough at greater cost – and the need for more staff.

The government has allocated the council a £1.8m social care support grant for the coming financial year, which the authority is free spend on either adults or children’s services.

But with children’s services struggling to cope with ever-rising demand, bosses are expected to invest all the cash in looking after vulnerable youngsters.

A report set to go before the borough’s Integrated Commissioning Board (ICB) next week says the adult social care budget has been given ‘significant support’ in recent years – both from the dedicated council tax precept and winter pressures fund.

Yet, in contrast, children’s services have had ‘little additional funding’ and are facing ‘significant financial pressures’.

It adds: “The social care support grant allocation could be split between adult and children’s social services, however given the significant pressures being forecast in children’s social services it is considered that this is the best use of the additional funding.”

Councillor Kieran Heakin, cabinet member for children’s services, says the cash – while not enough to bridge the gap –  would be a welcome boost.

He said: “I’m hoping we get all of it, at the moment it’s just crackers, we’re heading for being over £4m overdrawn by the end of the year.

“But it’s the prospect of the next few years as well. We are trying to do our best to to get the figure down for next year and the year after that.”

He said efforts were ongoing to bring spending down, but councils all over the country were facing the same problem.

“Every week we look at how we can alleviate that overspend, but it’s just the pressures of the system,” he said.

“At the moment we reckon every children’s services around the country are running at about 10 per cent overspend – so we are looking at about 10 per cent increase next year, and that’s just to keep your head above water.”

But he is crossing his fingers that the ICB - which is made up councillors and senior health offiials – will agree to the recommendation to invest the full grant in children’s services.

He said: ”I would hope to see as much of that money as possible spent on children’s social care, but I don’t know how it will end up.

“It will help, but it’s a sticking plaster, it’s a finger in the dyke.”

Councillor Heakin says the rising number of children coming into care, as well as local authorities’ obligations to care-leavers now extending until they turn 25, are among factors driving the crisis.

“There are just all these different pressures that no one thought about funding before the government brought in the relevant laws,” he said.

He continued: “We have had that on top of austerity. The council, since 2010, has had a reduced income of £200m, we call that cuts, the government will call it savings.

“But of that £200m, £27m has come out of children’s services – we have taken a massive hit on that. We have never been overdrawn as a service, this is the first year we’ve not been able to manage the budget.

“We have always managed to stay in the black but this year we have been overwhelmed. We are coping, but it’s just the volume of what we are having to deal with.”

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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