Council admits balanced children’s services budget ‘unlikely’ as placement pressures grow

Council reports £2 million overspend in children's services after numbers of looked-after children increase

A local authority has said it is “unlikely” it will be able to balance its children’s services budget after a rise in looked-after children contributed to a £2 million overspend.

Swindon Council said the bulk of the overspend was due to an increase in children’s placements, a third of which were commissioned externally. “Around a quarter” of the overspend was down to spending on agency social workers, the council added.

A report submitted to the council’s children and young people’s scrutiny committee said that “service pressures have increased in the last quarter, particularly in relation to commissioned placements, and additional staffing costs”.

Recruitment challenges

“Difficulties in recruiting staff and increasing workload demands have necessitated the use of agency social care staff across the service. There are a higher number of children coming into care and this inevitably impacts on legal costs, as legal services support the process of children coming into the care of the local authority,” the document said.

A quarterly performance review report showed there were 311 children in Swindon Council’s care at the end of June 2016. This compares to 255 at the same point last year.

A council spokesman said returning to a balanced budget for the whole council would have to be achieved by savings in other parts of the authority.

“It is unlikely the children’s services budget will be balanced this year due to the additional cost pressures, but the council will have to balance its overall budget as it is required to do each year,” he said.

The spokesman added: “We used agency staff for routine cover such as sickness or maternity leave, but also for unfilled vacancies.

“Like many local authorities, we have struggled to recruit social workers but, following a successful recruitment campaign, we have reduced our vacancy rate from 35 per cent to 14 per cent, in line with the national average.”

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