£3.4m cuts loom in Bath & North East Somerset children’s services

Council spending on education and children’s social services in the Bath area will need to be cut by £3.4 million over the next three years.

Officers have set out the financial headaches facing Bath and North East Somerset Council in a series of five reports which make recommendations for future spending.

The latest one tackles the topic of children’s services and outlines how £2.4 million will be saved by a range of cost-reducing measures.

These include a “significant reduction” in staffing, with at least 40 people losing their jobs, and a “radical” re-design of some services, including social care and school improvement, to make them more efficient.

The council now also has the task of finding the extra £1 million that still needs to be saved, £861,000 of which must be found in 2010/11.
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In the report, which will be presented to the authority’s Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Panel next week, officers say the only option will be to close down a number of services unless the ruling cabinet agrees to additional funding.

It says: “The major challenge is in 2010/11 when there is a gap of £861,000 between unavoidable growth and pressures and identified savings and efficiencies.

“At the time of drafting, this funding gap has not been closed down. Areas of discretionary spend have been identified and will be ended in 2010/11 or phased out from then onwards. Work has been done to review children-in-care population numbers to see if pressures can be reduced, it is not possible to reduce this further.

“Other reductions are planned for 2011/12 onwards – this timing is deliverable as there is extensive work to be done during 2010/11 to bring about these reductions in a planned and co-ordinated manner.

“Therefore the remaining options are to close down a number of service areas or request cabinet to provide additional funding to reorganise the unique situation regarding our children-in-care duties.”

These savings need to be made at a time when some services actually need more money to make sure children and young people are cared for effectively.

There has been a small but costly increase in the number of children in care in B&NES, which is expected to rise from 126 to 145 by March 2011.

Officers say this 15 per cent growth is the largest cause of extra financial pressure in 2010/11.

Following the case of the death of Baby P in London, all local authorities were subjected to checks to make sure the standard of safeguarding children was at an acceptable level.

Although B&NES was assessed as “sound”, the council has been told to invest £246,000 in front line services and quality improvement arrangements during 2010/11.

New rules referring to social workers’ caseloads and the increase in the number of children in care, mean the council is also expecting to have to employ more staff.

The impact of the recession is being felt by local authorities across the country as the government tightens its purse strings.

B&NES Council is optimistically predicting that revenue funding from central government will stay the same after 2011, but it is thought it may actually reduce.

It is also expected that government funding for capital expenditure will be halved and specific government grants are also under threat.

Officers are predicting that the council will need to cut its spending by at least five per cent, working on the assumption that council tax increases by 2.5 per cent.

A spokeswoman for B&NES said: “These proposals reflect the current state of public finances and the challenge to improve efficiency.

“The report reiterates that the financial climate for local government is severe with pressures caused by a range of factors, including the scale of the public sector finance deficit, the current and historic shortfalls in central government grant funding, service specific pressures such as the needs of vulnerable children, the recession, and pension cost increases.

“All local authorities have to tighten their belts.”