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Whitehall questions children's social care costs

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Two government departments have called for an explanation from councils about their failure to reduce spending on children’s social care since budgets were first cut in 2010.

The Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government have set up a project to examine councils’ spending in this area after discovering there had been very little reduction in councils’ spending since 2010.

This was despite DCLG’s assumption that councils could cut their children’s services spending by 15% between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

The department reduced its “relative needs formula” for children’s social care – which is based on an assessment of the cost of running the service – by 43% for the same period.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services conference in Harrogate last week, LGA chief executive Carolyn Downs said the departments wanted to “examine the scope for driving efficiencies in children’s services”.

She said youth and community services, and central education functions, had been cut broadly in line with DCLG reductions to the “relative needs formula” of 43% and 40% respectively.

However, she said, the same was not true of children’s social care.

She added that during a “spiky” meeting, DfE officials had asked “why spending had not fallen in that area [children’s social care] and why we couldn’t find greater levels of efficiency.”

She said rising demand was a crucial reason for this. According to the National Audit Office, councils saw an 11.8% rise in looked-after children between 2007 and 2012.  

Ms Downs said the departments wanted to address the variation in councils’ spending on children’s services and had asked why some councils had better Ofsted ratings than others despite spending the same amount of money or less.  

The LGA has responded to the Whitehall drive by commissioning Cipfa to research the variations in spending between different councils.

During his speech at the same conference, children’s minister Ed Timpson said: “My department is already working with DCLG, as well as local authority groups, to look at ways to make the delivery of children’s services more efficient and more effective.”  

A National Audit Office report published earlier this year said the DfE “could not give an estimate of cost pressures and the scope for savings across the entirety of children’s services.”

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