Manchester City Council

Agenda item

Agenda item

Review of Children's Services Budget

Report of the Strategic Director Children and Education Services

 

This report considers the impact of Council resources to support children’s services to improve outcomes for Manchester’s children who require additional support.  It also provides an outline of the issues driving the current overspend in the Children’s Services budget in 2018/19, including analysis of overall spend and placement numbers.  The report also summarises the success in delivering the planned workforce changes and reducing reliance on use of agency staff

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Strategic Director Children and Education Services, which set out the impact of Council resources to support Children’s Services to improve outcomes for Manchester’s children who required additional support. The report also provided an outline of the issues driving the current overspend in the Children’s Services budget in 2018/19 and summarised the success in delivering the planned workforce changes and reducing reliance on use of agency staff.

 

The Strategic Director Children and Education Services referred to the main points and themes within the report which included:-

 

·                The reduction in the Children’s Services budget position between 2011/12 to 2018/19;

·                The investment into Children’s Services since 2015/16 from non-recurrent resourcesto support new working arrangements, early help/intervention, evidence based practice, increased social work capacity to reduce the size of social workers caseloads and fostering and adoption services;

·                The projected level of need for children and young people from 2018 to 2020 including associated costs;

·                Comparisons with other core cities had identified that Manchester was now a lower than average user of residential care but a higher user of external foster care compared to internal foster care;

·                Demographic trends for child population at a local, regional and national level, including the increase in the number of looked after children per 100,000 of the population and the disproportionate rise in complexity of the young person's population;

·                The performance, improvement and impact of schemes such as Troubled Families and Families First;

·                Practice improvements and the impact on outcomes; and

·                The current budget management strategy.

 

Some of the key points that arose from the Committees discussions were:-

 

·                How many agency staff were in interim management positions and what was the impact of this in the delivery of efficiencies due to a potential lack of continuity at a management level;

·                Was it possible to have any detail on the number of social workers currently on  suspension from work;

·                What was the ratio of frontline social workers to managers;

·                Was the anticipated reduction in the number of external placements for children a realistic target;

·                How much of domestic violence costs were related to supporting children and young people;

·                Was Manchester’s direction of travel viewed by its peers as positive;

·                What was planned to achieve the targeted savings in Looked After Children;

·                What did it cost the Council to place a child in different types of care;

·                Clarification was sought as to whether it was correct that 1 in every 100 children in Manchester was in the care of the local authority;

·                It was noted that early  intervention made the most significant difference and helped prevent children being placed into residential care;

·                There was concern that budgetary challenges would still exist beyond the current saving plans based on the increase in child population, complexity of needs and the increase costs of services.

 

The Chair of the Children and Young Peoples Scrutiny Committee had been invited to the meeting for this item and commented on the work being done by his committee to address some of the concerns that had been raised by Members.

 

The Strategic Director Children and Education Services reported that there were approximately 5 out of 52 posts filled by interim managers and commented that this was often due to the posts being difficult to recruit to.  He advised that the current ratio of staff to managers was eight FTE’s to one manager but that this on occasions could vary. The Committee was informed that there were currently seven members of staff suspended due to allegations of gross misconduct.  These investigations often took time to complete but progress was tracked and monitored on a monthly basis.  He reassured Committee that suspension was only undertaken where there was no other viable option.  The importance of a stable workforce in delivering efficiencies was recognised and the service now only had 53 agency staff employed.  The Executive Member for Finance and Human Resources commented that he had raised the issue of the length of time some staff had been on suspension with officers in HR and this was being looked into.

 

The Committee was advised that the budget pressure for Looked After Children related to the costs of placements, with some placements currently costing significant amounts.  The Strategic Director advised that the service was committed to safely reducing the number of Looked After Children in Manchester in order to achieve the identified savings but acknowledged that there were challenges that needed to be overcome.  The Head of Finance (Adult Services, Children’s Services and Homelessness) commented that whilst there had been a reduction in the number of Looked After Children, this had not been at the anticipated pace and as such the resulting overspend would be revisited to look at how best this could be addressed.  In terms of domestic violence resources, specific support for children formed part of the social work intervention, delivered in partnership; as such it was not possible to place a specific cost on this. 

 

The Strategic Director Children and Education Services commented that in his opinion, the Council’s peers would say that the Council’s direction of travel was positive, however, challenges still existed due to the complexity of children’s needs, the service is still in transition and the demographic of the city’s population.  It was recognised that whilst the Council did not have difficulties in recruiting to social worker positions, it did have difficulties like many councils in retaining experienced frontline staff, however, it was noted that there had been a slowdown in the turnover of staff.

The Committee was advised that comparatively, the Council looked after 104 per 10k population and the costs associated with this varied.  An external foster care placement could cost in the region of £1000 per week, compared to an internal placement which would cost circa £500 per week.  The high cost placements related to complex residential placement which in some instances could cost circa £4000 per week.  The Strategic Director added that whilst there had been a significant shift and increase in the number of internal foster care placements and Special Guardianship Orders, any slight movement, often made a significant difference to the budget for Looked After Children.

 

The Strategic Director Children and Education Services and Executive Members for Children’s Services acknowledged that there would be challenges ahead, but reassured the Committee that the first priority would always be the safety of Manchester’s children. It was stressed that early intervention was key to making the financial savings needed.

 

Decision

 

The Committee notes the report.

 

Supporting documents: