“Spending on children's centres and youth services down £140m”

By Joanne Parkes

| 09 January 2019

Spending on Sure Start children's centres and services for under fives plummeted by £110m last year, according to latest government data.

Section 251 outturn data for 2017/18 shows local government expenditure on services for young people were also slashed by £32m in 2017/18, compared to the previous financial year.

The data submitted to the Department for Education by councils, suggests that the drain on non-statutory spending was caused by increased pressures in looked-after children budgets.

Rising numbers of children in care led to £320m more being spent in this area across councils in 2017/18, compared to 2016/17.

Councils spent just 7.1 per cent of their overall budget on Sure Start children's centres in 2017/18, compared to 8.4 per cent in 2016/17.

They spent 4.4 per cent of their overall spend on young people's services compared to 4.9 per cent the year before.

However, the proportion of overall spending on looked-after children rose by 2.4 per cent in the last financial year, accounting for 47.8 per cent of the overall budget - in 2016/17 it was 45.4 per cent.

Spending on safeguarding children and young people's services and family support services were roughly unchanged.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), severe funding shortages for social services that protect vulnerable children have pushed nearly nine in 10 councils into the red, prompting warnings that funding for children's care is now in a country-wide crisis.

A statement from the LGA claims a total of 133 out of 152 councils (88 per cent) were forced to spend more money than they had planned to on children's social care last year, amounting to an overspend of £806 million.

The association estimates that children's services already face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025 "just to maintain the current levels of service", and is calling on the government to step in with more funds.

The chair of the LGA's children and young people board, Anntoinette Bramble, said: "This should be a wake-up call to the country-wide crisis we are facing in funding services to protect vulnerable children and young people, which as these figures show is now being felt in all towns and cities across the country.

"The fact that the overwhelming majority of councils are now being forced to spend more than they had planned to on children's social care highlights the urgent need for the government to provide new and long-term significant funding for children's services.

"While the additional investment announced in the budget was a small step in the right direction and helpful, this will do little to alleviate the immediate and future pressures on services for some of the most vulnerable children and families in nearly all areas of the country.

"It is vital that the government tackles the funding crisis facing children's services in next year's spending review, and delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution that enables councils to protect children at immediate risk of harm while also supporting early intervention to prevent problems escalating in the first place."

Stuart Gallimore, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: "Local authorities are committed to keeping children and young people safe from harm which is why we have seen a slight rise in spending on children's services but we are increasingly having to use money from reserves or divert funding away from other services our communities rely on, such as children's centres, youth services and libraries, many of which provide a safety net for children and families before their problems reach crisis point - it's a vicious cycle.

"That most councils were forced to overspend on their budgets last year to meet their statutory duties should serve as a warning sign to the Treasury.  We need a long term funding strategy for children's services not the government's current favoured approach of small, time limited pots of funding for some local authorities but not all."