Struggling council outlines major cuts to early help and youth services

By Joe Lepper

| 04 September 2018

A financially troubled council is considering cutting funding for young people and families in need of early help by £2.5m in a bid to balance its books.

Somerset Council has set out plans to cut funding for early help services by £2.5m. Picture: Somerset Council

Somerset County Council has put forward more than 70 cost-cutting proposals as it looks to save £28m over the next two years due to reductions in funding and to meet increasing costs and demand for supporting vulnerable adults and children.

Under the proposals the council's budget for early help service for children and families will be cut by £327,000 during the current financial year and by £1.68m in 2019/20. This will be achieved by cutting staffing levels and increasing caseloads.

During 2019/20 it is proposed that youth services funding will be cut by £239,000. This will mean halting the council's provision of support, resources and training to voluntary youth organisations and the closure of its existing grant scheme for youth groups.

Meanwhile spending on young carers will be cut by £242,900 in 2019/20 as part of a service redesign, which will see support provided by the voluntary and community sector and statutory duties absorbed into other children and adult services.

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Somerset Council's leader David Fothergill said that over the last eight years the council has already had to make £130m worth of savings and now had reached the "very sharp end" of continued austerity.

"Local authorities have to deliver a balanced budget. We cannot overspend and be bailed-out later - we have to live within our means," Fothergill said.

"Despite the huge pressures, until this point we have managed to maintain - and in key areas improve - services, but the funding we receive falls far short of the cost of the services we provide and that has to have an impact.

"We've tried hard to avoid this, looked at every option open to us in terms of financial flexibility, but have been left with no choice. These proposals will be hard to deliver and difficult to stomach for anyone who works for or with this authority.

"This is the very sharp end of austerity, but the consequences of not taking this action, of not bringing ourselves to financial sustainability, would be even harder on our residents and that has to be avoided."

Additional savings being proposed include compulsory two days' unpaid work for all staff and councillors over the next two years, which will save around £1m.

Support for local early years providers is also set to be reduced, by £50,000 this year and by £124,000 during 2019/20. Councillors will discuss the proposals on 11 September.

Last month Association of Directors of Children's Services president Stuart Gallimore warned that councils will be forced to cut funding for early help provision unless the government addressed the mounting financial crisis facing children's social care.

Earlier this year Northamptonshire County Council was issued with a section 114 notice, which bans new spending with the exception of safeguarding vulnerable adults and children, due to its fragile financial situation.

A recovery plan presented to Northamptonshire Council last month outlined proposals to make between £60m and £70m worth of savings during the current financial year.

Children's services in Somerset were rated as "inadequate" overall in 2015 but a re-inspection carried out in November last year upgraded the services to "requires improvement" after finding the council had made "steady progress" to improve.

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