Protected budgets for safeguarding ‘unworkable’, say council heads

Children’s services leaders have criticised Lord Laming’s proposal to introduce protected budgets for child protection, saying they would be unworkable.

In his child protection report last week, Laming said councils, health agencies and the police should have protected budgets for child protection staffing and training.

He said while 82% of schools funding is provided through the ring-fenced Dedicated Schools Grant, there was no such fund for child protection. “There is no guarantee that funding provided by the government for the purposes of keeping children safe from harm, and improving their well-being is used for these purposes,” he said. 

Safeguarding budgets at risk

As a result, he said, safeguarding budgets were at risk of being eroded by the pressures on councils to make efficiency savings. “The government should therefore take decisive action to protect budgets for safeguarding children, thereby ensuring consistent appropriate levels of investment across England in both early intervention and statutory services.”

Laming also called for the publication of a national annual report reviewing safeguarding and child protection spend against the assessed needs of children across each children’s trust.

John Freeman, a spokesperson for the Local Government Association and former children’s services director at Dudley MBC, said he was “cautious” about Laming’s recommendation for protected funding. “I want to see safeguarding is properly resourced,” he said.

LGA opposed to ring-fencing

“In general, the LGA doesn’t like the notion of ring-fenced budgets because you are not making decisions on local priorities if there is a default maximum. We need a system that ensures that all the different partners contribute their share.”

He said it would be sensible for the government to develop further guidance on the financial responsibilities of children’s trust partners. “There has been variation and that has been a source of local tension.”

Freeman was also critical of Laming’s proposal for annual reporting. “A national reporting system is too bureaucratic, it is replete with difficulties. There would need to be a new accounting system across the different agencies and I don’t think the benefit would be as good as you might expect.”  

ADCS: Ring-fencing unrealistic

Maggie Atkinson, ADCS president, said protected budgets were unrealistic. “It’s a great ambition, but I’m not certain how it could be taken to fruition. We are living in very straightened times and I don’t think it would be possible in many local authorities at the moment.” 

However, Atkinson did support annual reporting. “People shouldn’t have qualms about annual reporting. We should be prepared to talk to each other if we are serious about improving children’s outcomes,” she said.   

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said a separate budget for child protection was “undesirable”. “If you separate child protection from children’s services in general it becomes isolated and you may find too little money has been allocated for the budget.”

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