LGiU and the MJ recently published their State of Local Government Finance Survey 2018. The survey, which provides a snapshot of the key pressures facing councils and their ideas for the future, found that children's services is now the most immediate financial pressure for councils - above adult social care for the first time. The survey also found that despite three quarters of councils managing to sustain the quality of frontline services over the past year, evidence suggests that their 2018/19 budgets will see activity further reduced in several key community services including parks and leisure, adult social care and youth centres.
Since 2010 local government funding has been reduced by almost half, at the same time there has been a significant rise in the number of children and families in need of help and support which shows no signs of subsiding. Our Safeguarding Pressures Phase 5 research finds that the number of children becoming subjects of a child protection plan has increased by 78% over the past decade. (Later this year ADCS will publish Phase 6 of this research, bringing the evidence base up to date - watch this space.)
Nobody can underestimate how hard local authorities have worked to protect the services our communities rely on from budget cuts. We've cut costs by innovating, re-designing and reconfiguring our services. We've merged back office functions and we increasingly collaborate across local authorities to create economies of scale and shape markets. But we are now facing a level of demand and complexity for which current resourcing is insufficient. Neither central nor local government wants children's social care to be a ‘blue light service' but with at least a £2 billion funding gap expected by 2020 we cannot go on as we are.
Whilst it's true the government has invested £200m in the Innovation Programme until 2020 and funding for innovation in children's social care is to be welcomed, grant funding is time limited and there is a risk that as the funding for the various schemes and projects dries up, councils may have to cut the very same services they established with the fund. There is similar uncertainty around future funding for the Troubled Families Programme which is having a positive impact in many local areas. Our very own Michael Bracey, co-chair of the ADCS South East region and director of children's services in Milton Keynes, wrote a blog for the Guardian on this very issue recently. Uncertainty still surrounds the government's plans to fund vital local services, including children and young people services, via business rate retention, rather than central grants.
ADCS, the LGA, Solace and others are working hard to highlight the unsustainable funding pressures facing local authorities and impact of cuts to local authority funding on the vital services we provide. Despite our efforts, it seems that the Treasury believe that there are still endless efficiencies to be found in children's services. Don't worry, we are continuing to work with the LGA and civil servants to provide the evidence that this simply is not the case and I urge you all to press your lead members into action to support the work we are doing to achieve a sustainable budget settlement for children.
We urgently need a long-term, sustainable solution to the funding pressures we face, underpinned by a relentless focus on earlier intervention and moving in and ‘out' of families lives. Without this, the greatest costs will fall on generations of children and young people. It's all very well striving for a country that works for all children, but how are we going to resource it?
Alison Michalska is president of the ADCS. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website