DfE study to inform Spending Review 'not completed in time'

Neil Puffett
Friday, December 4, 2015

A study ordered by the Department for Education (DfE) in order to inform decisions made at last month's Spending Review about how children's services will be funded over the next five years is yet to be completed, CYP Now can reveal.

The research, which was commissioned in the summer, had been due to be completed in October so its findings could be considered prior to the Spending Review on 25 November.

A government document outlining the scope of the work states that the DfE, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and HM Treasury, were all keen to understand how local authorities responded to funding pressures over the last parliament and their forecasts for changes in demand and expenditure on children’s services in future.

The document added that the work had to be completed on schedule in order to influence decisions made in the Spending Review.

"The timescales for this project are necessarily tight as findings must be delivered by October to ensure they can inform policy decisions," the expression of interest document states.

But CYP Now has learned that the research, which was due to involve visits to more than a dozen local authorities, was not completed in time.

In response to a Freedom of Information request by CYP Now, the DfE said it was "unable" to supply a copy of the report as it is "still being drafted". The response added that, once completed, the research report will be published.

The Spending Review saw a big cut for the DCLG, which provides money for councils in grant form. In 2016/17 alone, the amount of funding for councils will reduce by £1.9bn, although the Chancellor claimed these cuts will be offset by changes to rules that will allow councils to generate and keep more local funding.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children's Trust, questioned the rationale of the decision to cut funding for local authorities in the absence of the study's findings.

"What are they making the cuts on the basis of if they don't know what the spending habits of children's services departments have been?" he said.

"If the study comes back and says that children's services are spending money efficiently across the children's social care sector and services are becoming very stretched, then reducing funding further is going to break services." 

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “The DfE-commissioned report into council children’s services spending will inform our approach in supporting councils going forward, beyond the Spending Review. 

"The research interviews with 17 local authorities have been completed and the final report is being drafted.”

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