A senior councillor is calling on the Government to take urgent action to help hard-pressed local authorities cope with an unprecedented increase in demand for children’s services.
Councillor Alan Clark, chair of Hartlepool Borough Council’s children’s services committee, has written to Robert Goodwill MP, the Minister of State for Children at the Department of Education, ahead of the Budget next Wednesday.
He says the council has done all it can to prioritise the welfare of vulnerable children and young people in the face of swingeing funding cuts, but the position is now “untenable”.
In his letter, Coun Clark reveals that the number of vulnerable young people referred to the town’s multi-agency Children’s Hub has increased by around 40% in the last 12 months alone.
He adds: “The Children’s Services department now faces a £2.1million deficit due to unforeseen and unbudgeted pressures on local children’s services.
“Government funding received by the council is 2017/18 is £24.9million compared to £46.4million in 2013/14, a reduction of £21.5million.
“Over this period, the council has tried to minimise the impact on children’s services, although budget reductions of £4.4million have had to be made.
“After allowing for the impact of inflation, the 2017/18 Children’s Services budget is 14% lower than it was in 2013/14.
“Other budgets within the council have been reduced by 28% over the same period.”
Coun Clark points to the action taken by the Government to tackle a crisis in adult social care by introducing a Social Care Precept that allowed local authorities to raise additional revenue, but he stresses: “Local ratepayers should not be expected to pick up the cost of increasing demand in children’s social care.
“The Government must find a more sustainable funding model for the future that enables local authorities to properly tackle and fund the challenges we face.
“The demand for statutory services is rising and, as a consequence, the council must ensure that those in need of protection are properly safeguarded.
“This, however, is impacting upon our ability to provide early help and support services to children and young people to prevent their needs from becoming acute which, in turn, drives up demand for statutory services.
“There is now a lack of sufficient financial resource to support vulnerable children and their families and the effects of the Government not taking any action may result in the loss of key preventative services within the department, such as children’s centres and youth services. Once these services are removed, there will never be the opportunity to replace or recreate them.”