Council faces projected £68M overspend

Article dated Monday Oct 30, 2023 at 04:49 PM

The Leader of Bradford Council has called on government to urgently improve funding to local councils as Bradford faces a £68m gap in its budget for this year.

The authority is forecasting that by the end of this financial year there will be a budget gap of £23m in the council and £45m in Bradford Children and Families Trust (BCFT) if nothing else changes. BCFT took over the delivery of children’s social care services from the council in April. It is independently run by a board of trustees and wholly funded by the council.

Extra demand and escalating costs for children’s social care and adult social care are the main reasons for the budget pressure along with the impact of the extraordinary levels of inflation and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

The need for expensive residential care placements for children – which now average in the region of £312,000 per child per year - and high levels of agency social workers are the main causes of the budget pressure in BCFT.

BCFT is forecasting that they will spend £242 million on children’s social care alone this year, 25% over budget. Bradford Council raises just £233 million a year from council tax.

The council spends 76% of its annual budget on adult and children’s services.

Since 2011 the council has had to find over £350m in cuts and savings due to national austerity measures. It is now working on a detailed plan to make even more savings.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said: “We are not the only council facing tough times. Councils up and down the country are facing big financial pressures.

“I have written to the government to ask that they urgently improve how they fund local government. Government reforms to the funding of local authorities that would benefit Bradford by £32m a year based on independent analysis have been repeatedly delayed.  The Local Government Association estimates that councils across the country now collectively have a funding gap of £2.4 billion this financial year.

“I am also calling on the government to make sure that the Bradford Children and Families Trust is properly funded. We need the government to provide better funding for disadvantaged children across the children’s social care sector nationally. But specifically in Bradford we know that we have the youngest population in the country as well as a high level of social need. This needs sustainable funding from central government accordingly.

“Government has equally not done enough to stem the spiralling costs of private providers of children’s care placements. Research nationally has shown that the 20 largest providers are making nearly 20% profit out of disadvantaged children’s care.

“The Chancellor will present his Autumn Statement to parliament on 22 November, setting out the Government’s spending plans. It is his chance to put the deficit in children’s social care right. If he does that, we won’t have to make the drastic cuts that we are currently having to consider.”

The council has already stopped all non-essential spending, frozen non-essential recruitment and is conducting a full spending review to identify measures to balance the budget. It is working with the children’s trust to help control and reduce costs, has reviewed reserves and the capital programme, increased fees and charges and begun a wide-ranging transformation programme. 

The council is in dialogue with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and is also talking to the Department for Education (DfE) about financial support for the Bradford Children and Families Trust to ensure that they can continue their improvement.

Benchmark data, compiled by the Local Government Association, shows that, apart from children’s social care, all Bradford Council’s services are either at or below benchmark spend levels in comparison to other similar councils.

Eileen Milner, Chair of Bradford Children and Families Trust said: “We clearly recognise the budget pressures that we are forecasting contribute to the Council’s budget challenges. We are confident that through the delivery of our business plan we are working on the critical areas that will mitigate the Trust’s part in this while focusing on the right plans focusing upon ever better outcomes for our children and young people.

“The Trust has only existed since April this year and we have already implemented early demonstrable improvements, but such a fundamental level of change takes time and is reflected in the budget challenge we face. We are clear on our position and what needs to be done to achieve the improvements needed in services and support, which will mean fewer children will need to come into care because we are able to support them better and earlier at home, plus make sure that more of our children who do need to come into care are able to live closer to home or within family arrangements. These changes will also deliver necessary savings over a four-year period. We are prioritising a permanent workforce, making best use of collective resources and have a strong focus on helping families earlier, focusing as well on strong partnership working across the Bradford system.”

The scale of the financial pressures facing the council will be considered by senior councillors at the meeting of its executive board on Tuesday 7 November.

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