County councils call for 'devolution' to boost children's services

Neil Puffett
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

County councils should be given five-year finance settlements and more power over budgets as part of a "devolution" package that would help improve children's services, a local authority group has said.

Counties are calling for greater independence from Westminster. Picture: UK Parliament
Counties are calling for greater independence from Westminster. Picture: UK Parliament

report by the County Council Network (CCN) - which represents a network of 37 county councils and unitary authorities that serve county areas - calls for a "radical devolution" of powers to its members.

The report claims that due to counties continuing to contribute to national deficit reduction, an increasing proportion of their budgets are being spent on meeting statutory obligations.

"Without radical change, counties will have fewer funds available to invest in developing their areas and ensuring a good quality of life for all," the report states.

The report calls for five-year local government finance settlements to allow authorities to plan ahead, as well as the power to be able to pool budgets across health, police, fire and other public services.

It also calls for the removal of a number of Whitehall ringfences on budgets for health and schools, and greater control over local troubled families and Youth Contract budgets.

The report stops short of requesting complete autonomy over how education and children's social care budgets are spent.

For children's services, CCN is also calling for new powers to co-ordinate multi-agency safeguarding hubs, increased investment in family support services and a national recruitment drive for social workers.

It has also requested changes to the schools funding formula in order to protect rural schools from closure and ensure enough new schools are built to meet demand.

CCN chairman David Hodge said: "Counties are committed to deliver the schools and safeguarding agendas so that all children can have a school place and that through partnership working with other public sector providers they can protect children at risk.

"Counties are also fully committed to deliver the skills agenda so that in each area we can nurture the skill base that local businesses need.

"We need to ensure that young people receive the guidance and skills training, including apprenticeships, so they are better prepared for the tough market and reality of work."

The call for devolution to counties comes the day before people in Scotland vote in a referendum on independence.

The campaign in Scotland, and the promise from Westminster of more powers for the country if it opts to remain part of the UK, has led to growing calls for the devolution of powers in both England and Wales.

The CCN has said that over the coming months, it will develop detailed policy papers to help any incoming government implement its proposals over the course of the next parliament.

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