Hartlepool council chiefs tackle £850,000 overspend as increasing number of looked-after children puts pressure on budgets

A built-in contingency fund is to be used by council finance chiefs to balance the £850,000 overspend in its budget this year.

Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 5:45 pm
Hartlepool Civic Centre

Hartlepool Borough Council finance bosses previously stated total costs for 2019/20 would exceed the budget by a net amount of £850,000, due to additional demands from increasing numbers of looked after children.

There was an initial gross overspend for the children’s services committee of £1.241million, which was partly offset by one-off savings in other children’s services budgets in 2019/20, which reduced the department overspend to £850,000.

Council officers told the finance and policy committee plans are in place to cover the funding without making in year cuts or using budget reserves.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A ‘contingency provision’ was included within the 2019/20 budget of £561,000 to manage the risk, although it had been hoped the amount would not have been needed and could have been used for future years.

The amount was funded from one-off grants and benefits arising from the final Local Government Settlement.

The remaining one-off funding to balance the budget has been identified through a review of grant regimes and Northgate contract savings, with funding also identified to go towards costs for 2020/21.

Chris Little, council director of finance and policy, praised the work being done by the children’s services team to manage its position.

He said: “If we’re overspending by £1.2million this year it’s not unreasonable that it’ll be at least that much next year and probably more.

“We’ve set out a strategy to deal with the additional costs in the current year and also provide some money towards next year.

“That means we can fund the costs this year without having to find in-year budget savings.

“There’s been a 77% increase in the number of looked after children, but officers have worked really hard and the cost increase has been limited to 45% which demonstrates the effort which is going in to managing the position.”

Councillors added the increased demand is a problem faced by councils across the country and praised the work of the children’s services team.

Council leader Coun Shane Moore said: “From speaking to the other leaders of the authorities in the Tees Valley, it’s very evident we are not alone in this situation.

“We do extremely well compared to some of the others and I think that’s a credit to the team.”

Coun Leisa Smith, chair of the children’s services committee, also noted the progress being made for a new special school in Hartlepool, and how it would have excess places beyond the needs of Hartlepool.

She said: “The team does work extremely hard to make sure the children do come first.”