Councillor criticises response to funding appeal

Published Friday, 22nd December 2017

A COUNCILLOR has criticised the response to his appeal for urgent financial help to be given to hard-pressed local authorities facing a huge increase in demand for children's services.

Councillor Alan Clark, Chair of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Children’s Services Committee, says the Government’s pledge of a Fair Funding Review – with allocations not due to be announced until 2020/21 - does nothing to address the immediate issues facing councils.

The Council’s Children’s Services Department is currently facing a £2.7 million deficit.

Councillor Clark said: “While Hartlepool Borough Council has done all it can to prioritise the welfare of vulnerable children and young people in the face of on-going grant cuts, we are now in an untenable position and the Government must act more quickly to develop a sustainable funding model.”

He also voiced disappointment over the local government finance settlement announced this week which, he said, was a missed opportunity for the Government to directly address the situation.

“While local authorities have been given more flexibility to increase Council Tax, it is wrong that local taxpayers should have to pick up the cost of increasing demand for children’s social care,” he said.

Councillor Clark first aired his concerns about the funding of children’s services in a letter to Robert Goodwill MP, the Minister of State for Children at the Department for Education, in September.

“Government funding received by the Council in 2017/18 is £24.9 million compared to £46.4 million in 2013/14, a reduction of £21.5 million. Over this period, the Council has tried to minimise the impact on children’s services, although budget reductions of £4.4 million have had to be made. After allowing for the impact of inflation, the 2017/18 Children’s Services budget is 14% lower than it was in 2013/14. Other budgets within the Council have been reduced by 28% over the same period,” he wrote.

In reply, Mr Goodwill said: “We recognise sector concerns that demands on services are particularly challenging in some areas. This review will address concerns about the fairness of current funding distributions and carry out an evidence-based review of current funding formulae.”

He also said the Government’s current four-year Local Government Finance Settlement allowed councils to plan ahead with certainty, while £200 million is being invested in an Innovation Programme to enable local authorities to support each other to be as efficient and effective as possible.