Volatility in children’s services spending could rapidly tip a series of councils over the financial cliff edge, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy has warned.
In an LGC interview Rob Whiteman said that although he believed no councils were imminently about to issue a section 114 notice, the mechanism used by Northamptonshire CC to signal its financial demise, there were “a clutch of councils that are a year or two away” from doing so.
However, the “volatility” of children’s services spend was causing him immediate concern.
“What we say many councils expressing at the moment is that their children’s numbers can change quite significantly in quite a short space of time,” he said.
“We could have another five 114 notices in the next six months if children’s services budgets really deteriorated.”
A report for the Local Government Association by Newton Europe last month found councils’ spending on children’s social care per child varied between £292 and £1,254 in 2016-17. Much of the variation was driven by factors beyond councils’ control.
Mr Whiteman predicted next year’s spending review would be the “toughest… in a generation” because the decision to give the NHS £20bn meant things would be “very, very tight” for the rest of the public sector.
He called for improved data on children’s services spend, as well as on other council services, which could help the sector to “succeed with the Treasury”.
Mr Whiteman also described placing social care on a sustainable footing as the “acid test” of the spending review. ”My own view is, and I hope I’m wrong, that we will not have a bold solution that puts right social care funding - the spending pressures from social care are here to remain for a very long time.”