Neath Port Talbot’s ‘Oliver Twist’ children’s social services criticised for asking for more

CHILDREN’S social services in Neath and Port Talbot have been compared to Oliver Twist because of the way bosses keep coming back to ask for more.

They have gone over their staff costs budget by £450,000 despite being given an extra £1.3 million this year — leading to accusations they have created an impression of rewarding financial mismanagement.

Most of the overspend is down to the authority failing to recruit enough social workers, meaning they have to keep paying for more expensive agency workers.

Officers argue the expense is justified because Neath Port Talbot has the highest proportion of looked-after children in the UK, and they could not turn away vulnerable or at-risk youngsters.

However, members of the children, young people and education cabinet board voiced concern after being told the overall financial pressures on children’s services now exceeded £1.2 million.

Councillor Rob Jones said: “When I started reading this (officers’ report), I thought I was reading Charles Dickens.

“I thought it was Oliver Twist. You’ve been given £1.3 million and you’re coming back to ask for more.

“There is no more. When you look at the figures, the bowl is empty. You’re asking to come back and lick the bowl and eat the crumbs, and taking money from other areas.”

Head of children’s services Andrew Jarrett said the council was in a very difficult and unprecedented situation with children’s services.

“We cannot turn away children who are vulnerable and at risk. We still have to bring them into a safe place, and that will cost money,” he said.

“My job is to ensure that, going forward, we are planning for the proper and robust management of finances, but also proper and robust management of our children.”

Mr Jarrett said there were around 490 looked-after children in Neath Port Talbot, the highest rate in Wales and the UK based on population.

He said: “I’m working to get that down, but we need to do that in a safe and measured way. I’m not going to be able to do that overnight.”

Mr Jones responded: “Nobody would want to turn a child away or put a child in danger. We have a statutory duty.

“What it appears is that we are rewarding financial mismanagement. I’m not making any accusations of wrongdoing, but it sends out the wrong message to other departments that are struggling to balance their books.

“They ask why children’s services are allowed to get away with such a vast overspend. It is the wrong message, and I think one of the things this council needs to look at is financial management with children’s services.”

Mr Jarrett said the department was not raiding the reserves of other departments or schools. “A lot of this money is coming from central reserves, and we will have to pay that back,” he added.