This report sets out the budget proposals for the services covered by the Children and Education Policy and Accountability Committee.
Jacqui McShannon (Director of Children’s Services) introduced the item and gave a presentation that set the context for the Children’s Services budget proposals. She noted that the budget was informed by the department’s vision:
· To improve the lives and life chances of our children and young people.
· Early intervention in order to give the best start in life and to promote wellbeing.
· To ensure children and young people are protected from harm and that all children have access to an excellent education and achieve their potential.
Jacqui McShannon highlighted a number of key achievements for the department in 2019/20 including:
· Consolidating the new sovereign service.
· Getting a ‘good’ rating from Ofsted for services to children in need of help, protection, care, leaving care, and fostering and adoption.
· Excellent performance in all education phases and a strong collegiate approach.
Tony Burton (Head of Finance, Children’s Services) took the committee through a slide detailing the department’s controllable budget for 2020/21. He explained that £38m was passported through to maintained primary schools and funding for academy schools in the borough (around £68m) went directly from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to academies.
Tony Burton then discussed 2020/21 savings and growth, noting that the £5.5m of growth was mostly for Family Services, driven by an increase in the looked after children population and increasing complexity of need.
Jacqui McShannon spoke about the challenges for 2020/21 - highlighting the following key issues for the department:
· Increasing numbers of looked after children (264 at present). Officers were carrying out a peer review to understand if that was down to differences in practice or if it was due to the demographics of the borough.
· Further demand growth for travel care and support – due to increasing numbers of children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).
· An increasingly complex and challenging commissioning landscape.
Jacqui McShannon then discussed the following key priorities for the department in 2020/21:
· Review the early help and intervention offer to families and schools
· Implement strategies to support inclusion in schools
· Develop a strategic commissioning approach to contracts
· Review the effectiveness of services which support children to remain safely at home
· Ensure placement sufficiency to provide choice and range of high-quality local placements for looked after children and care leavers
· Analyse demand led pressures on front line service delivery and develop options
Councillor Mark Loveday asked what the Council’s projected overspend was for the year. Hitesh Jolapara (Strategic Director of Finance and Governance) said the overspend for Period 6 was £9m, though officers were being cautious in their reporting and he expected the actual position to be better. In the previous year, Period 6’s overspend had been reported at around £5m but the final figure was £1.6m.
Councillor Loveday asked what proportion of the Council’s overspend was Children's Services. Hitesh Jolapara said the department was responsible for the largest proportion of the overspend.
Tony Burton added that in Period 6 the High Needs Block was spending £5.7m over the Department for Education (DfE) allocation. Since then the Government had confirmed a grant in the autumn for the projection for 2021 had improved. Hitesh Jolapara said there was £2.9m in the Government settlement for the High Needs Block – which was a recognition that this was a problem nationally. At officer level the Council was lobbying Government to look at a sustainable funding model for the High Needs Block. Councillor Loveday noted that 1.32 of the report mentioned using reserves – setting aside £15m for the current year and the next four years. He asked if this was over and above the anticipated overspend of £2-3m in 2020/21. Hitesh Jolapara explained that accounting rules set by the DfE and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government meant when the Council closed the accounts each year any overspend had to be funded. So that money was being set aside to be prudent.
Councillor Loveday noted that the base budget last year was £43.8m for Children’s Services but the report for this year showed a figure of £51.3m - an increase of nearly £10m. He asked what accounted for the difference. Tony Burton explained that the comparable budget was £44.16m. Tony Burton said the figure of £51.3m included non-controllable expenditure for corporate overhead charges and capital charges.
Councillor Loveday asked for clarity over what the £5m of growth was for. Emily Hill (Assistant Director, Finance) said the vast majority was for increases in Family Services placement costs. It had been an area of significant overspend in the past and so the new budget was an attempt to more accurately reflect spending.
Councillor Loveday noted that in the report the department was already anticipating an additional £3m spend on top of this budget and asked if the growth should reflect that. Tony Burton explained that the anticipated overspend of £3m was in the High Needs Block, used for SEND pupils in schools and funded by the Government, which was separate to the rest of the department’s budget. He added that officers were meeting with the DfE to discuss the gap between DSG expenditure and the funding the Council made available for services. It was hoped the funding formula used would move towards what the actual need was on the ground now – rather than the current approach which was based on historic levels of spend.
Councillor Loveday asked if it was a sustainable approach to keep going to the Government for additional funding. Hitesh Jolapara said the DfE understood that High Needs Block spending was unsustainable, not just in the borough but nationwide, and were considering taking action. The Council also had a plan to try to better focus resources.
Councillor Loveday noted the main area of savings, £1m on placement costs, and asked what that involved in practical terms. Jacqui McShannon said the issue for looked after children placements was around placement sufficiency – officers were looking to avoid the need for independent foster agency places. It would lead to both better quality placements and deliver better value. There were a number of projects in train to deliver better placement outcomes.
Councillor Loveday noted that last year’s budget had similar savings for placement costs and asked if the department had achieved those savings. Tony Burton said there had been considerable work on semi-independent living and he did believe those savings were achievable. Officers were looking to scale this up over the medium term.
Councillor Loveday noted that the appendices mentioned a £250,000 saving for staffing efficiencies. Tony Burton said that mostly related to a reorganisation in the Special Education Need and Disabilities (SEND) service that would reconfigure the way some support services were provided. There was also an element that came from the general staffing budget. Councillor Loveday asked if that meant staff numbers were reducing. Mandy Lawson noted that while going through the ‘Moving On’ process, when shared services were disaggregated, a number of posts were identified that weren’t required in the new structure – e.g. due to merged management posts etc.
Nandini Ganesh commented that there were a number of elements in this budget that had appeared in previous budgets – reducing demand for plans, improving inclusion in schools, independent travel training and more – but they had not materialised. Mandy Lawson said there was a lot of work being done on the inclusion agenda including better outreach and specialist teaching in schools. The department was now in a position to take these projects forward.
Jan Parnell noted that one of the big impacts in schools was in secondaries – H&F was one of the first boroughs in London to implement a managed move protocol that gave children fair access to a panel discussion. It had already had a huge impact - last year there were 29 managed moved but this year there had been just two.
Councillor Loveday requested a full schedule of fees and charges to be circulated, as had been the convention in previous years.
ACTION: Hitesh Jolapara
The Chair thanked officers for their time and work on the budget.