It is no secret that local authorities are running out of loops to tighten their belts. Pressures to deliver, pressures to meet ever increasing demand, and pressures to drive down costs stand in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s insistence that austerity is ending. This is no more obvious than in the case of children’s services.
Local government is consistently expected to deliver more for less. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant reduction in the resources available for family support and increasing pressure on front line staff, culminating in a 16% turnover of children’s social workers in 2018.
But with rising demand and receding resources, transformation can only take us so far. With nothing left to cut, an increasing number of councils are overspending on children’s services just to meet the basic statutory needs of the most vulnerable members of society.
Spending on children’s services has increased by £1bn over the last 2 years. But to facilitate this, councils are pulling back on discretionary, often preventative, services that could avoid young people and families reaching crisis point in the first place.
And in spite of the fact that we have so clearly reached crisis point, CIPFA’s repeated calls on government to relieve the pressures faced by local government have gone unanswered. While a whole systems, place-based approach to health and care forms part of the policy rhetoric – this is not evidenced in the government’s approach to ensuring that the sector is sufficiently and sustainably funded.
The Select Committee Inquiry into the funding of children’s services is welcome, but does not address the immediate fact that government must do more to enable councils to meet increasing demand in a sustainable way. The failure to act on these issues in the round shows no sense of an integrated approach on government’s part.
Ahead of the spending review which may come before the summer recess, government must put its money where its mouth is and turn rhetoric into actionable policy. In the meantime CIPFA’s latest book on children’s services finance, written by CIPFA associate Phil Harding, highlights good practice to help councils secure value for money and reduce the risk of overspending – particularly helpful in light of reduced resource and increasing cuts.
The funding envelopes provided by government are no more than sticking plasters for the social care crisis. Vital additional funding is required urgently to reduce pressures on the front line staff working to prevent dire situations for those most in need.
This article first appeared in Local Government Chronicle.