Vulnerable children could be at risk by huge cuts in Somerset services

Some of the West’s most vulnerable children could be put at serious risk by savage 75-per-cent cuts to some services, it has been warned.

An email seen by the Western Daily Press containing details of Somerset County Council’s proposals to slash its children’s services has laid bare the scale of budget cuts the authority is being forced to consider.

But it has prompted fears valuable frontline work with children at risk and their families could be lost, putting young people in danger.

Years of vital work with children on the margins of society in Somerset could also be undone, one councillor has warned.

The document was sent to staff by Bob Clark, the council’s interim corporate director Children and Young People, and is evidence of the hard decisions to be faced by all town halls in the West after the Government announces its own spending plans this autumn.

Mr Clark says in the email the council is considering a 25-per-cent spending cut over three years in the Children and Young People’s directorate.

But he adds children’s social care accounts for nearly half the directorate’s £66 million budget, and would be difficult to cut.

The axe is therefore likely to fall very heavily on other areas.

He says these could face a 65-per-cent cut, with: “A reduction by almost 75 per cent in partnership services, reducing the budget from £12 million to nearer £3 million. This will have very significant implications, particularly for local service delivery.”

But Sedgemoor district councillor Kathy Pearce, leader of the Labour group on the authority, believes cuts like these will mean the most vulnerable suffering the most.

She said: “This (the document) raises a lot of questions. The partnership being referred to came about through the 2004 Children’s Act following the death of Victoria Climbie (the eight-year-old girl murdered by her guardians in London in 2000).”

Local authorities were instructed to work together with other agencies proactively to identify possible issues.

Cllr Pearce added: “My fear is that cutting this budget on frontline work with vulnerable families and children will result in some of the most vulnerable children being put at risk.

“It looks as though they are saying that social care can’t have any further cuts but there are other areas where there is work with parents and children in schools for example. The work that has been done with children at risk of exclusion for example in recent years in Somerset has been remarkable.”

Mr Clark says in his email that the cuts would also mean a reduction in local authority funded school and pupil related services of approximately 50 to 60 per cent, with remaining services developed in partnership with schools.

There would also be reductions of 40 per cent in strategic and management budgets, and attempts to cut the £1 million transport bill.

Somerset County Council said it could not comment on details because it would not give information to the media before staff and stakeholders.

Bob Clark said yesterday: “Somerset County Council is facing tough times and I wanted to let staff and stakeholders know discussions are taking place on what the future may hold for all of us. No decisions have been taken yet as we will only know specific details when the Government announces its spending plans in the autumn.”