The report presented the provisional outturn position for the Children, Education and Families Portfolio for the 2021/22 financial year.
The provisional outturn for the ‘controllable’ element of the Children, Education and Families’ budget for the 2021/22 financial year showed an overspend of £4,056k compared to the last reported figure of an overspend of £1,987k which was based on activity at the end of December 2021. The overspend was primarily due to additional staffing costs, with fewer permanent staff than anticipated, as well as increasing demand for services including SEN Transport and children’s social care placements at the higher end of need. Senior officers were meeting on a regular basis to scrutinise and challenge the expenditure position and management action was being taken to address identified issues, including securing an additional £0.5M of funding from the Bromley Clinical Commissioning Group to help fund the health element of residential placements during the 2022/23 financial year.
In response to a question from the Chairman, the Head of Finance, Children, Education and Families explained that the budget cycle was an annual process subject to ongoing challenge processes on areas of concern, pressure and growth. The draft budget for Children, Education and Families Portfolio was presented to the Committee to scrutinise at its January/February meeting each year and following the approval of the draft budget by Executive, further comments were sought from the Committee prior to the formal approval of the budget by Council in March/April. The Children, Education and Families Portfolio was a particularly challenging budget area as many services were statutory and high cost with demand fluctuating throughout the year.
A Member observed that the Local Authority had developed a strong cohort of in-house foster carers and suggested that an investment be made in upskilling foster carers to allow more Looked After Children with the highest levels of need to be placed within the Borough. The Director of Children, Education and Families advised that these children and young people often required highly specialist residential placements and that the majority of local authorities did not supply such provision in-house due to regulatory complexity and cost. Having said that, it was possible that the role of local authorities in residential care could evolve moving forward in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care by Josh MacAlister. The Director of Children, Education and Families further outlined a number of Local Authority programmes in place to ensure that Look After Children received the right care, including the emergency foster carer programme for children in crisis and the New Horizons project which supported children in residential care who were ready to step down to a specialist foster care placement.
Another Member queried an overspend within SEN Transport due to unavailability of drivers. The Head of Finance, Children, Education and Families explained that a framework was in place to supply SEN Transport to a specific quality standard but that a contractor had chosen to withdraw from the framework during the 2021/22 financial year which had made it necessary to identify more expensive emergency cover.
· The latest projected overspend of £4,056,000 on controllable expenditure at the end of the 2021/22 financial year be noted;
· It be noted that the Council’s Executive would be asked to agree the net carry forward outlined in Appendix 2 to CEF22044 at its meeting on 29 June 2022; and,
· The Portfolio Holder be recommended to endorse the provisional outturn position for the Children, Education and Families Portfolio for the 2021/22 financial year.