The speed of the cuts being forced on councils will have a bigger impact than the size of the cuts, the chief executive of Barnardo’s has told MPs.
Martin Narey this morning told the education select committee that he did not dispute that government needed to scale back public spending, nor the size of the cuts.
“It’s the speed of the cuts that worries me,” he said. “Harsh as they are, we can make them – but the speed of them is very troubling because it means some local authorities will have no choice but to take the easy route and slash the voluntary sector so we suffer the redundancies rather than their own staff.”
The frontloading of cuts to local council funding means the deepest (of about 11%) will need to be made by March. However, Narey said children’s directors still had too little information to make budget decisions.
“I think the last few months of the financial year are going to be very turbulent indeed,” he said.
Barnardo’s had already lost council funding for a school in Scotland that was admired by its commissioners, he added.
“We have told directors we are willing to be involved in discussions about cuts,” Narey told MPs. “The problem is that, if we were given a year’s notice, we could make cuts of up to 15%. It would hurt, but we could do it. But if you ask me to make those cuts by Feburary then it becomes very difficult to do because I can’t take advantage of natural wastage. So it’s the momentum of the cuts that will do the damage.”
Debbie Jones, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services resources committee, said although councils were receptive to procuring from the voluntary sector, “the issue is whether they will have the time or the capacity to do what’s necessary”. She said it was also necessary to remember that procuring services was not always cheaper.
Councils were currently modelling scenarios of cuts to children’s services of between 14% and 30% but were still waiting on grant funding announcements, including what would be included in the early intervention grant, Jones added.
Directors were unclear on how much of the pupil premium, for example, could be spent on services that are now provided free by children’s services.
“At the moment we still have to take into account those statutory services which we have to provide because, while the funding has reduced, there is no expectation the law will change or there will be any change to those legal requirements.”
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