Finance chiefs target overheating budget

Posted on: 4 November 2015

A top-level working party of senior county councillors has been set up to stop Devon’s budget for People services overheating further.

The latest estimates show the budget is overspending by £9.1 million.

The increase in the last two months is mainly due to extra spending of £1.8 million on children in care.

The new working party is headed by deputy leader John Clatworthy, who is also the Cabinet member responsible for finance.

He will be joined by the Cabinet members for children’s services, James McInnes, and adult services, Stuart Barker.

Among the measures they are considering implementing are a jobs freeze on non-essential posts and a spending embargo.

A new report to Devon’s Cabinet shows that Place services are on target and corporate services are underspending.

County Treasurer Mary Davis says that, half-way through the financial year, the overall budget is currently heading for an overspend of £4.5 million by next April if nothing is done.

“This is clearly a cause for concern and requires urgent action by the Strategic Director People and the Heads of Service within this area,” she will tell councillors next week.

“There is little capacity to fund an overspend of this size from reserves.

“Direct actions such as spending embargoes, non-automatic replacement of vacant posts and an immediate freeze on spending within other services’ areas may be implemented before the next budget monitoring report to Cabinet.”

Mrs Davis says part of the reason for the overspend in children’s services is the move from agency social workers to permanent staff.

Newly qualified social workers had been recruited earlier than planned.

This lead to a temporary increase in staffing levels while they were shadowed by more experienced staff but the leaving dates for agency workers had now also been brought forward.

“Numbers of children in care have fallen since the summer and plans are in place to reduce the total number of social workers to establishment by the end of the year,” she will tell councillors.

Mrs Davis says the overspend in Education and Learning has also increased to £795,000 because of further increases in transport costs with the start of the new academic year.

John ClatworthyMr Clatworthy said: “This administration has balanced its budget for the past six years despite facing multi-million pound austerity cuts every year and freezing council tax for three years. We have absolutely no intention of not balancing the books.

“But these are unparalleled times. We were faced with significantly improving our children’s services after Ofsted declared them inadequate.

“Safeguarding was rated as adequate earlier this year but we remain subject to an Improvement Notice from the Department for Education. We have to continue our improvement and that requires time, commitment and cash.

“There has also been a relentless, upward pressure on demand for children’s services following the child abuse scandals that have been uncovered in other parts of the country.

“Almost all our neighbours in the South West are facing similar pressures and similar demands on their budgets.

“We have a pre-eminent responsibility to care for vulnerable children in our county and we will always fulfil that responsibility.

“But we also have a responsibility to maintain an efficient and cost-effective council for our residents and we will not shirk from the tough measures we will have to take to bring our budget back into the black.”

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