The Department for Education has been accused of preventing children’s services departments from being able to plan strategies to withstand the biggest cuts in a generation.
Matt Dunkley, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said directors had to put their planning on hold because vital information was coming out of the government in “dribs and drabs”.
He told a session of the National Children and Adults Services conference that directors needed information about how the new early intervention grant and area-based grant would function.
Dunkley also said that the decision to reduce grants by 11% in year one of the comprehensive spending review period would hamper early intervention work which could result in savings in later years.
Addressing the DfE’s director-general for children, young people and families, Tom Jeffrey, Dunkley said: “I have to say, Tom, that the uncertainty about the grants is unhelpful and the phasing of the settlement with the upfront cut next year is particularly unwelcome. That part of the settlement has been disastrous in terms of the challenge we face.”
Dunkley complained that councils learned only last week that they would still have to pay court fees for care proceedings.
Although he welcomed the principle of the new early intervention grant, he said he would “save that judgement until I see the numbers”.
Jeffrey told the session: “There’s no denying that it’s a tough and challenging settlement for local government” – but he insisted departments would be freer to set their own priorities by a “government with a commitment to localism”.
Mark Rogers, chief executive of Solihull Council, said work was under way to examine the effectiveness of early intervention work – but he said previous work in the area “had not been developed with productivity in mind”.
“What we’ve already done needs to be redesigned to ensure productivity,” he said.
Earlier, Helen Bailey, the Treasury’s director of public services, told the conference that government spending would revert to similar levels to those of 10 years ago.
Although grant funding to councils would fall by 28%, she insisted that funding was likely to be cut by 14% if the Office of Budget Responsibility’s assumption that council tax bills would rise by 2.9% a year was taken into account.
She insisted councils would benefit from having more latitude to charge for services and from reductions in ringfencing.
Bailey insisted that the Treasury’s assumptions “underlying the settlement are that there shouldn’t be a huge challenge going forward in the levels of eligibility for care.”
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