Exclusive survey: youth services and children's centres worst hit as cuts average 13 per cent in one year

By Lauren Higgs

| 24 January 2011

Children's services budgets are being slashed by an average of 13 per cent in the coming financial year, according to a survey by CYP Now.

Early years is one of the most vulnerable areas to the funding cuts, according to the directors of children's services who responded

The snapshot survey, which attracted responses from 25 directors of children's services, sets out for the first time the full scale of the cuts facing children's services departments across the country.

The results show that for 2011/12, cuts in individual councils range from six per cent in the least affected authorities, to 25 per cent in the worst hit.

The results provide the firmest indication yet that cuts are being heavily frontloaded - given that the cash councils receive from central government is being reduced by 28 per cent over the next four years.

All respondents predicted job losses in the financial year ahead, with a total of at least 3,624 redundancies predicted by the 21 directors of children's services who gave details on how the cuts will affect jobs in their departments.

Pace of savings

The pace at which savings have to be made was identified as a major challenge by respondents. "The scale and speed of cuts is not acceptable with the impact on smaller and more deprived authorities being disproportionately affected," one director explained. "We knew it would be bad but it seems children's services have one of the worst settlements across local government," said another.

The survey also found that youth provision, early years, Connexions and school improvement services will bear the brunt of the cuts, while 80 per cent of directors warned that children and young people will be adversely affected by spending reductions.

"Young people aged eight to 19 will be particularly affected," one director said. "We will continue to support the most vulnerable but the universal element of youth and Connexions services will be lost and this could put more young people at risk of poor outcomes."

Early intervention struggle

Despite government rhetoric on investing in early intervention, 28 per cent of directors said preventative services would be among the worst hit. "We are struggling to maintain early intervention services," one director explained.

"Given our rapid population growth, the funding to schools is always inadequate for the population. This also means we are underfunding for growth in special educational needs and social care numbers."

Catherine Doran, director of children's services at Harrow, told CYP Now that local authorities were unprepared for the severity of the cuts. "There are a lot of tough decisions for our sector," she said.

"There hasn't been sufficient time to think through and discuss the most effective way to make the savings we're being forced to make, so you'll find that different authorities are taking different approaches.

"Youth services are going to be the biggest challenge and will be hit hardest initially. We're having to take a close look at what services we provide and how we provide them."

Chris Kiernan, director of children's services at Waltham Forest, said his authority had little time to prepare for the cuts. "We only got information about grants relatively recently," he said.

"We've got an overall reduction target of 15 per cent of our controllable budget next year. That's about £4.5m, but we haven't yet factored in the early intervention grant where it looks like our grant has gone down from £18m to £14m."

Kiernan added that councils could be forced to totally reconfigure services because of the depth of cuts.

"The government could look at the legislative framework, not to stop local authorities having a director of children's services, but to allow people to reconfigure services in a much more radical way."

 

SURVEY OF DIRECTORS OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES ACROSS ENGLAND

Response rate 25 directors

13 per cent Average cut to children's services budgets in 2011/12

80 per cent of directors say children and young people will be adversely affected as a result of the cuts

3,624 Redundancies predicted in children's services departments (total from 21 directors who specified a figure)

 

Which services will be among the hardest hit?

  • Youth services 56%
  • Early years and children's centres 44%
  • Connexions 40%
  • School improvement 40%
  • Preventative services 28%
  • Back office functions 24%
  • Voluntary and community sector 12%
  • Education welfare 8%
  • Educational psychology 8%
  • Play 8%
  • Transport services 8%

Source: CYP Now survey

 

EXPERT VIEW

Matt Dunkley, Vice-president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services and the director of children's services at East Sussex

"Outside of the schools' settlement, children's services have generally been left with a bigger budget problem to solve than we thought we had. A late double whammy of frontloaded grant cuts from the Department for Education (DfE) plus an unexpected and arbitrary cut to the formula grant to fund academies, combined with unavoidable service pressures has hit many councils hard.

Ringfences are off local government funding, so councils can decide to reallocate cash to children's services from other services, but in reality few have done so because of the lateness of the settlement and cuts already made to other services. Many children's services departments are making 15 per cent or more reductions to services in 2011/12, making them the biggest losers in local government next year.

Hard and fast cuts

It could get worse. There are still grants we have not been notified of, for example, music services and youth offending, which may reduce or disappear. Late notifications and frontloading mean we risk losing the chance to reform services sensibly over a reasonable time, and may end up cutting hard and fast in a way that is not helpful long-term.

We will try to prioritise the most vulnerable children, but the reach of many services will be scaled back. In East Sussex, for example, we are stepping back from a universal offer in youth services, Connexions and support to early years settings. A range of services we previously provided free to schools - including non-statutory educational psychology services and behaviour and learning support - will now have to be paid for by schools or cease.

In addition, core funding for school improvement has ceased or gone into the Dedicated Schools Grant for distribution to schools, to help keep the promise to them of a flat cash settlement. Local authority school improvement services are being drastically reduced, and schools will not have any additional spending power from the cash they receive as a result.

The removal of ringfencing from the Early Intervention Grant is welcome, enabling local prioritisation and better management of the cuts made necessary by a 20 per cent cash reduction on the original allocations for 2010/11. Less welcome, has been the succession of 'finger wagging' letters and statements from officials and ministers urging us to spend it on their pet priorities. That's just not on - if the ringfence is off, don't try to reassemble it. Don't hand us an axe and then tell us where not to wield it, please.

For GPs and teachers the government's message is: 'Trust the professionals; put the money in their hands and they will spend it on the right things. We don't need to tell them how to spend it.'

We'd rather like to be afforded the same professional respect ourselves."

 

Read CYP Now editor Ravi Chandiramani's leader

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