Since 2010, local government funding has been cut by almost half, whilst demand has risen significantly.
Councils have reshaped and remodelled services and adopted new ways of working to manage demand and minimise the impact of cuts. However, a raft of new legislation and policy initiatives agreed by central government have placed new duties, powers and expectations on council, known as ‘new burdens’. A new burden is broadly defined as ‘any policy or initiative which increases the cost of providing local authority services’ and must be properly assessed and fully funded by the government.
Local government must be flexible and adapt to ensure that services are fit for purpose, cost-effective and meet the everchanging needs of communities, however, we urgently need a wider debate about the cumulative impact of an ever-growing list of responsibilities without the required funding. As new duties emerge, old duties must be reviewed to ensure they need and don’t result in unrealistic expectations of councils. One area which could be reviewed, considering all that has changed since the legislation was first passed over 70 years ago, is the duty in relation to home-to-school transport. This costs councils £1bn per year.
Clearly there will always be children for whom this transport is vital but a universal offer for all children and young people living a certain distance from their educational setting is unsustainable.
In November last year the Association of Directors of Children’s Services responded to a consultation on draft statutory guidance, which included a proposal for the extension of personal advisor (PA) support to all care leavers to the age of 25. Whilst the ADCS agrees with the principles behind this proposal, this is a new burden for councils and must be fully funded.
Extending the cohort of care leavers who can access a PA to 25 will place a duty on councils to support tens of thousands more care leavers and it is not just PA time. Councils will have a moral and ethical duty to meet any needs identified as part of an assessment and this will have significant financial implications, which must be met over and above the cost of providing PA support.
Councils cannot continue to meet shortfalls in central government funding. Support for care leavers is working well in many areas but without appropriate finding, this new duty risks weakening the offer to all care leavers as councils stretch budgets.
It’s crucial that councils are enabled to meet the duties placed on them by central government.
Alison Michalska, corporate director of children and adults, Nottingham City Council and ADCS President 2017-18