Children's services 'biggest pressure for councils'

Neil Puffett
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Children's services are now the top immediate pressure for councils, a study has found.

Child protection services at Northampton Council have been rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted. Image: MorgueFile
Child protection services at Northampton Council have been rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted. Image: MorgueFile

A survey of senior leaders at English councils by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and the Municipal Journal found that children's services above adult social care for the first time in at least three years

The findings of the survey come just days after the financial crisis engulfing Northamptonshire County Council emerged - with the local authority issuing a "section 114 notice" banning any new spending with the exception of safeguarding vulnerable children and adults.

And today it was reported that Surrey County Council is facing a £105m funding gap - the difference between the funding it expects to receive in the next financial year and the money it needs to spend.

The LGiU survey found that nearly all councils in England plan to raise council tax (95 per cent) and increase charging (93 per cent) to make ends meet this year; and two thirds of councils will be forced to dip into their reserves.

One in 10 leaders fear their local authority will not have enough funding to fulfil their statutory duties in 2018/19.

Meanwhile 80 per cent of councils fear for their financial sustainability amid growing concern that Northamptonshire's problems represent the tip of the iceberg for local government.

The survey also found that 2018/19 budgets will see activity further reduced in key community services, with 34 per cent of respondents highlighting youth centres as a vulnerable area.

Last month the Local Government Association warned that children could be left in circumstances of risk unless the government acts to plug an estimated £2bn funding gap.

Lord Porter, Local Government Association chair, said: "This survey highlights the financial pressures facing local services next year and concerns about the funding cliff-edge we have warned councils face at the end of the decade.

"It shows councils continue to work hard to try and protect vital services but with core central government funding to councils being further reduced by half over the next two years, setting budgets for 2018/19 remains a huge challenge for all of them.

"Some councils continue to be pushed perilously close to the financial edge. Many will have to make tough decisions about which services have to be scaled back or stopped altogether to plug funding gaps.

"Extra council tax raising powers will helpfully give some councils the option to raise some extra income but will not bring in enough to completely ease the financial pressure they face. This means many councils face having to ask residents to pay more council tax while offering fewer services as a result."

Department for Education figures published in November showed that there were 646,120 referrals to children's social care in 2016/17, up 3.97 per cent on the previous year.

The rising volume of referrals has led the number of section 47 child protection enquiries - whereby councils must investigate if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm - conducted by councils rise from an average of 200 a day in 2006/7 to more than 500 a day in 2016/17.

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