Contentious plans by Bradford council to cut foster carer allowances to the national recommended minimum have been called in for scrutiny by opposition councillors.
The proposed cuts, which the national Fostering Network charity described as a “drastic” step, were unanimously approved by Bradford council’s cabinet last week. Unions and carers warned that the move risked depriving vulnerable children or driving carers away altogether.
Meanwhile legal experts questioned the rationale for the cuts put forward by the council’s officers, namely that fostering rates needed to be aligned to adoption, special guardianship and residence allowances in order to avoid the risk of a judicial review. In the wake of a 2010 court case, some local authorities have been raising – but not reducing – various rates to bring them into line, and solicitor Nigel Priestley said the timing of the cuts smacked of a “calculated decision” to save money.
Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservative group on Bradford council, told Community Care that he had called in the plans because of “a need to get these decisions right”.
“We think it would be in the interests of everyone involved for the scrutiny committee to look at the legal advice and understand it better,” Cllr Cooke said. “We also want to consider the impact of the proposed reductions on the market, and whether this will impact on the supply of foster care, or cause carers to move to other local authorities or to private agencies, meaning the council is at risk of not meeting its duties to vulnerable children.”
The plans will now be assessed by a scrutiny committee, which can call on the council’s executive to rethink the cuts or demand that the plans are considered at a full council meeting.
Pete Davies, senior regional organiser for the GMB union, which represents foster carers, said he welcomed the move and called on councillors to “think again”.
“The emphasis should be on how to drive down agency costs, not carer costs,” he said. “This decision would ultimately increase costs to the council, and the opposition were right to pick up on that. If there is a legal case it should be published so we can scrutinise it.”
Michael Jameson, Bradford council’s strategic director for children’s services, said that the council had recently had to review a local case, which had led to a settlement having to be made. He defended the council’s stance that it would be at risk of judicial review if the changes do not proceed.
“Our recent review of allowances will ensure that any anomalies with payments such as this don’t occur in the future,” he said. “We still pay our carers more than other councils in the region, and will continue to improve support to carers and in turn to the children in our care.”