Advisor raises ‘very serious’ concerns over children’s services finances

QUESTIONS have been raised over how Bradford Council’s Department of Children’s Services arrived at a situation where they face a £33.8M overrun in the coming year.

Councilor Mike Pollard (Cons, Baildon) raised the issue at a Council meeting this week, when he discussed the huge costs the Council faces in placing children in care in work releases of the district.

He said that if the problem is not solved, the Council could face a financial “disaster”.

Out-of-district placements can cost the taxpayer up to £250,000 per child per year, and last year the costs rose from £3,600 per week to £4,800 per week.

A recent report on Council finances reveals that the number of children placed in such placements has reached its highest level, which has largely contributed to the planned overspending of £33.8million by the Department of Child Care Services. childhood for the year.

There are now 105 young people in these placements compared to 70 the previous year.

At the Council meeting, Cllr Pollard pointed out that this year’s budget, approved in February, appeared to be based on the assumption that there would be a much lower number of children in these outpatient placements – 75. also asserts that the Council underestimated the cost of these investments.

He said, “What has happened since the budget?

“It is not credible to conclude that there were only 75 such children in the system at the time rather than the 105 in the most recent documents.”

At the meeting, council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said there was ‘no smoke and mirrors’ and she was happy to answer any questions about the budget.

She criticized the cost of outdoor seating and called on the government to step in to cut costs for councils.

Bradford Children’s Services will be run by the trust after a report found the council ‘lacks the capacity and ability’ to improve quite rapidly

Cllr Pollard fears that the failure to forecast demand for these placements means the Council could soon face a Section 114 advisory – issued when a Council is unlikely to be able to cope at its cost.

He said that although the reserves could cover overspending for the next few years, he had “serious concerns” about the 24/25 budget.

The Telegraph & Argus asked Council to comment on the points raised by Cllr Pollard during the meeting.

Chris Chapman, Chief Financial Officer, said: “Like all local authorities, the number of children we care for, and the cost of that care, is constantly changing.

“The Council approved additional funding for Child Welfare in its 2022/23 budget, since then demand for these services has continued to increase due to factors such as the pressures placed on some of our families as a result of Covid and the current cost of living crisis.

“Additionally, private provider fees have increased more than 30% since April, which is subject to national review by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

“These unforeseen pressures have resulted in planned budget overruns.

“The reference to the 75 planned cases is an incorrect assumption from an internal document regarding the level of budgeted investments prior to the allocation of the approved supplementary budget in 2022/23 and the progress of the executive-approved sufficiency strategy.”

Cllr Pollard replied: ‘The response the T&A received from the Council doesn’t really change my view of the mess. There was indeed “an erroneous assumption made in an internal document”. Exactly, that’s what I’m talking about! However, these are a few blatantly incorrect assumptions that have been shockingly incorporated into the Council’s Main Budget with respect to the net revenue requirement for 2022/23.

He claimed Cllr Hinchcliffe failed to answer his questions at the meeting, adding that she ‘presided over a budgeting process which was obviously flawed’.

He added: ‘I really don’t understand how the Council could be presented, by the controlling Labor group, with a budget, pretending to balance without cuts, when at political and senior officer level it was necessary to know that the premise regarding, for example, the likely cost of outpatient institutionalization for children and young people in care was, bluntly, dangerous nonsense.

“I don’t disagree with Cllr Hinchcliffe that the cost of these placements is outrageously inflated and should be regulated, but even the average cost per placement, assumed in the internal document, was far removed from the known reality, calculated at just £3,000 a week – around 60% less than the already known reality.

“That’s only part of the problem here. Disaster is likely to occur even more significantly due to the ridiculous assumption made regarding the demand for these investments. This is not a new request, not something that was genuinely unheard of when the budget was set in mid-February. The problem was hiding in plain sight.

“The implications for the Council’s finances, not just in this financial year, but looking forward to the next, when the Children’s Trust is operational, are potentially extremely serious.

“The Council holds significant reservations, but two or three years of the unsustainable position we see in the current financial projections will see the District seek to press the Section 114 notice button – simply put, it is a local authority that effectively says ‘without emergency measures we will go bankrupt.

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