Hampshire Now - your County Council magazine

Budget proposals prioritise core duties of Hampshire Children's Services

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Ensuring Children's Services continue to protect and meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and young people in Hampshire, as well as supporting and challenging schools to maintain high standards, are the fundamental priorities behind proposals for the 2014/15 budget.

The proposals will be reviewed by the Children and Young People Select Committee on 22 January 2014, prior to consideration by the Executive Members for Children's Services (Councillor Keith Mans, Executive Lead Member for Children's Services, and Councillor Peter Edgar, Executive Member for Education), who will make recommendations to the Cabinet.

Grant from Government has been cut by 43 per cent over the last four years and is expected to reduce further in the years ahead. Therefore, the unprecedented financial challenges are set to remain for some time. Fortunately, early action by the Council to cut its costs means it is in a strong position to meet its overall £200 million plus savings target by 2015. It is also aiming for a freeze in council tax for the fourth year in a row to ease the pressure on residents.

The proposals deal with balancing the Children's Services budget of £162 million, for 2014/15, (which excludes the schools' budget, funded by Government), and identifying the 12 per cent savings needed to support the County Council's efficiency targets by 2015/16. The proposals set out a number of challenges associated with the complex range of issues the Department must address over the next two years. These include the increasing demands on Children's Services to protect or support the most vulnerable children.

As with all County Council departments, Children's Services are required to achieve this further 12 per cent reduction in departmental budgets. It also has to find some £6.3 million of savings in 2014/15 as a result of other grant reductions - equating to over £25 million of savings required by 2015. To achieve this, a strategic and long-term approach is being proposed, which although challenging in the short-term, is intended to provide more stability in the longer-term for residents and staff - as well as partners.

Key principles guiding the proposals include:

  • ensuring a social care system that continues to protect and care for the most vulnerable children and provide support to families in need;
  • tightly targeting limited resources to where they are needed most;
  • ensuring the Council has sufficient capacity to lead, challenge and improve schools;
  • and generating income through the sale of high quality services.

Savings are being sought from developing different and more efficient ways of working, which includes the reshaping of some services, such as the following.

  • Redesigning services around the creation of 'early help hubs' to deliver savings of £0.9 million in 2014/15. Through greater management efficiency and coordination across a number existing services, grant reductions to the voluntary and community sector are planned which would deliver further savings of up to £1.2 million in 2015/16.
  • Reducing the levels of support and challenge to early years providers in the private, voluntary and independent sectors. Savings of £1.7 million have been identified in 2014/15, with up to a further £6 million proposed in 2015/16. This does not imply any reduction in the supply or provision.
  • Shifting the balance of what schools receive as part of their core offer from the Council, to the purchasing of more school improvement services such as inspection and advisory, music, finance. Savings generated are expected to be around £1.5 million in 2014/15.
  • Re-organising services for 14 to 19 year olds and accessing new funding sources (£1 million approximately).
  • Improving value for money on contracts for purchased services e.g. external foster care and children's residential placements. Savings of £1.6 million identified by the end of 2015.
  • Reshaping and re-provisioning services to meet the needs of children with disabilities, and support to their families. Savings of up to £3.5 million are estimated in 2015/16 ensuring that services will be delivered in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
  • Maximising resources through the changes to the way health services are delivered, particularly the Council's delivery of Public Health. Savings of up to £4 million are being proposed through different ways that Children's Services engages with partners, including other health bodies, to improve health outcomes for children.

Subject to proposals receiving the support of elected County Councillors, consultations will be required before final plans can be confirmed or implemented.

Meeting the demand for primary school places is assured with a planned capital budget investment of more than £235 million being proposed, including £142 million for new schools and extensions, over the next three years.

Councillor Keith Mans, Executive Lead Member for Children's Services, said: "Before taking any decision, I will consider the detail in the report and the budget proposals very carefully. However, due to the challenging financial issues we face, decisions on these changes for Children's Services are simply unavoidable. The early and decisive action we have previously taken, succeeded in maintaining high quality Children's Services for Hampshire. With these latest proposals I will want to be assured, that we are able to continue to maximise this progress, and where possible, increase our investment in services for the most vulnerable children in the county. I believe these are the right principles to guide our work in challenging times."

The County Council's Executive Member for Education, Councillor Peter Edgar, commented: "The fact that there is less money available is undeniable, but we must find a way to work with what we have. Undoubtedly some difficult decisions will have to be made. Nonetheless, we should be proud of the fact that despite the challenging financial position we are in, it is proposed that there should be continued investment in supporting school improvement to help ensure our schools can do the very best for children in Hampshire."

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