Children’s services are ‘broken’

Children’s services are not at breaking point, they are broken, the Chief Executive of LGiU has said.

Publishing the MJ and LGiU report of local government finance, Jonathan Carr-West said the state of local government finances is “dire” and that it is “simply unacceptable” that the government has let things get to this point.

“This isn’t local government asking for more money. This is about a fundamentally flawed system that has been broken for years and the government continually refusing to acknowledge or engage in a proper solution. Sticking plasters will not solve these critical issues. Our social care system is no longer on the edge, it’s fallen off the cliff,” said Jonathan Carr-West.

The 8th annual State of Local Government Finance Report provides a snapshot of the pressures facing councils.

The report found:

– Nearly all councils (97%) plan to increase council tax in 2020/21, with most (93%) planning to raise it by more than 1.5%

– 90% of councils with social care responsibilities are planning to make use of the social care precept in 2020/21

– 1 in 10 councils (12%) say they are in danger of being unable to fulfil statutory duties this year

“Children’s services and education was named as the top immediate pressure for council finances, followed by adult social care and housing and homelessness. Adult social care was named as the top long-term pressure for council finances,” said the report. Over the last few years Children’s Services and Education have been cemented at the top of the list of immediate pressures, ahead of Adult Social Care although that remains a significant long- term pressure.

One in seven councils (14%) said they anticipate an increase in judicial challenges to the level of service provision this year, with Children’s Services (including social care and school transport), special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision, planning, libraries, waste, homelessness and adult social care cited as the areas in which they predict the most legal challenges.

Heather Jameson, Editor of The MJ, said: “The local government funding system is in desperate need of an overhaul. Despite a decade of austerity, local government is doing a valiant job of holding their services together, but they can’t go on forever without proper funding. While the government is reviewing the current funding system, the reforms are unlikely to go far enough to pay for the vital services that care for our elderly, protect our children, and help our communities thrive.”

“As a country, we need to have a serious debate about the state of our state. We need to consider what services we want and how to pay for them. And we need to give local government the powers to get on with the job,” she added.

Matt Dunkley, Chair of the ADCS Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee said: “Many of the messages in this report are not new. Children’s services, along with wider local government services, face significant financial pressures which must be addressed and what we need now is sensible action from the Treasury. Small, time limited pots of funding for some local authorities over others and one-off cash injections are no replacement for sustainable funding for all. Make do and mend is not good enough for our children and young people.

“The report states that many respondents do not have confidence in the sustainability of local government finance and once again children’s services was considered the top immediate pressure on council finances. Local government funding has been halved over the last decade yet more and more children and adults need our help and support. No one should underestimate how hard councils are working to manage demand but there is simply not enough money in the system to be properly preventative and meet the higher level and complexity of need we are now experiencing.

“Local authorities up and down the country are having to make counterintuitive decisions like cutting the very services we know reduce future demand and, crucially, improve the life chances of children and their families. This will cost the public purse more in the long run. It’s surely time for a Budget with children, families and preventative services at its heart,” he concluded.

State of Local Government Finance Survey 2020

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