Children’s Fund programmes to be frozen next year as budgets are cut

Children’s Fund programmes have been warned by the government that
their budgets will be cut in 2004-5, and told not to take on any
new commitments for next year, Community Care‘s sister
magazine 0-19 has learned.

But extra money has been found to prevent local programmes being
forced to break existing contractual agreements with service
providers. This followed complaints from programme managers about
the impact of the claw-back of unspent money allocated for 2002-3
after the mid-year review (news, page 7, 11 December).

In a letter to programme managers, the Department for Education and
Skills’ children, young people and families directorate director
Tom Jeffery admitted that the recent crisis was caused by mistakes
by the Children’s Fund’s central financial management. But he was
unable to tell programmes how much money they would receive in the
next financial year or in 2005-6.

The letter, dated 19 December, promised that the Children’s Fund
would survive in some form, but warned that budgets would be
reduced. It suggested that money thought to be earmarked for the
Children’s Fund in the next two years was likely to be diverted
elsewhere within the directorate by government ministers.

Jeffery said that ministers were still considering the level of the
overall budgets across the directorate but insisted that next
year’s budget would “enable the programme to continue to deliver
preventive services for children and young people”.

He admitted that the Children’s Fund allocated too much money to
local programmes in 2003-4 on the mistaken assumption that they
would underspend on their budgets, when in fact programmes had
spent much nearer to budget.

“We will remove the current over-allocation so there will be less
need to rely on under-spend,” Jeffery said. “This will inevitably
mean some reduction from the previous announced annual allocations
so you should not take on new contractual commitments.”

He also confirmed that, following a meeting with the sector to
discuss the impact of clawing back money for the second half of
2003-4, money had been set aside to ensure existing programmes were
not prematurely closed or staff made redundant.

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