Councils set to spend £9.1bn on children's services this year

Local authorities are set to spend a record amount on children's services this year, latest figures show.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics show that councils have budgeted to spend £9.1bn in 2019/20, an increase of £535m or 6.2 per cent compared to the £8.57bn budgeted in 2018/19.

While the year-on-year rise in spending on children's services was slightly lower than the 6.8 per cent increase seen in 2018/19 - it is still significantly higher than the rise in spending on adult social care and education.

In terms of how spending in children's social care will be allocated, expenditure on looked-after children is predicted to be the highest budgeted area at £4.5bn, up by £352m (8.4 per cent) compared with a budget of £4.2bn for 2018/19.

The figures show spending on child safeguarding is expected to be £2.2bn, up by £188m (9.2 per cent) from the previous year.

The adult social care budget is set to rise by 4.1 per cent to £16.8bn, education is expected to increase by 1.3 per cent to £34.2m and police spending will rise 6.7 per cent to £12.1bn.

However, the figures show that spending on public health services is set to fall this year by £72m or 2.2 per cent. 

Total service spending by councils is expected to be £96.2bn in 2019/20, £3.6bn, or 3.8 per cent, higher than the £92.6bn budgeted for 2018/19.

The percentage of the overall budget spent on children's social care (nine per cent) has remained unchanged from last year due to a rise in spending on other services from 24 per cent to 25 per cent.

Education accounts for 37 per cent of total service expenditure, 17 per cent will be spent on adult social care and 12 per cent on police, all figures which are the same as last year.

Matt Dunkley, chair of the Association of Directors of Children's Services resources and sustainability policy committee, said the data shows that councils "remain committed to protecting spending on children's services".

"What the data doesn't show is the tough decisions councils will continue to have to make in order to manage rising need for services and reducing budgets," he added.

"Local authorities are having to divert funding away from the very services that help children and families earlier as needs arise and reduce future demand - such as children's centres and youth services - as well as other services that are valued by our communities, such as bin collections and libraries.

"The Treasury must recognise that this is neither a sensible nor sustainable fiscal approach and is only storing up huge financial and human costs for the future."

A survey of senior leaders at English councils conducted last year found that children's services were the top immediate pressure for councils, coming above adult social care for the first time in at least three years.

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