It is no secret that local authorities are running out of loops to tighten their belts with.
Pressures to deliver, to meet ever increasing demand, and to drive down costs stand starkly against the prime minister’s insistence that austerity is ending. This is no more obvious than in children’s services.
Local government is consistently expected to deliver more for less. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant reduction in resources available for family support, and increasing pressure on frontline 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 two years. To facilitate this, councils are pulling back on discretionary – often preventative – services that could stop young people and families reaching crisis point in the first place.
Although we have so clearly reached crisis point, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy’s repeated calls on the government to relieve the pressures faced by local government have gone unanswered. While a whole system, place-based approach to health and care forms part of the policy rhetoric this is not shown 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 the 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 our associate Phil Harding, highlights good practice to help councils secure value for money and reduce the risk of overspending – particularly helpful given reduced resources and increasing cuts.
The funding envelopes provided by government are no more than sticking plasters for the social care crisis. Vital additional funding is urgently needed to reduce pressures on the frontline staff working to prevent dire situations for those most in need.
Eleanor Roy, health and social care policy manager, Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy