Council 'overshot' on children's service cuts, claims Northampton MP candidate

Labour candidate for Northampton North Sally Keeble says the county council has used the children's services budgets to prop up other areas of overspending.
Labour candidate for Northampton North Sally Keeble says the county council has used the children's services budgets to prop up other areas of overspending.

A Labour Parliamentary candidate for Northampton has accused the county council of cutting children's services unnecessarily harshly.

The county authority is on course to underspend in the department that looks after children from vulnerable families, in homes and in care by £2 million in the soon-to-close financial year.

But, during a speech at Tuesday's cabinet meeting (April 9), Northampton North candidate Sally Keeble said the county had 'overshot' on those cuts when children remained in a desperate situation.

"There are two issues here," she told the meeting.

"One is that financially it wasn’t necessary. Your monitor shows you’ve overshot on the cuts in children’s services, and now, almost at the year’s end, you’re looking at an underspend of £2.1 million.

"When you take into account that across the entire county council budget your underspend is much smaller at £100,000 - what it means is that you’re overspending somewhere else and balancing your books on the backs of these children.

"The second is that the carers and mothers of these children have been crying out for help and you’ve turned a deaf ear. In some cases, you’ve made things worse. And that’s a reflection of the culture in children’s services here."

Mrs Keeble gave examples of seven children she claimed to know of who had been let down by the county council in the current year.

One particular family, she described consisted of two disabled children being looked after by an extremely ill mother.

While in recovery, she claims social workers demanded an extra £10,500 in care payments from the mother by stating she had underpaid.

Another child, she said, was left without a school place for over a year, despite requests from his carer to find a place for him. A request for the bus fare so he could get to his previous school was also refused.

Mrs Keeble called for a 'complete culture change' in children’s services and a reversal of the cuts as a result.

She told the meeting: "I don’t think that deciding to pay a director £258,000 a year while demanding £10,500 from a sick woman caring for three children sets the right note."

Leader of the council, Councillor Matt Golby, asked Mrs Keeble to pass on details of the seven children she claimed to have been affected.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “This is a crucial time for the county council, particularly for our Children’s Services, which is on a significant improvement programme following criticism from Ofsted late last year.

“While we are on course to deliver a balanced in-year budget it’s also essential that we continue to deliver quality services for the people of Northamptonshire.

“Keeping the county’s most vulnerable children safe is a key priority for the county council.

“A great deal of work is taking place to make sure we have the right team in place to drive forward the Children’s Improvement Plan and work with the Children’s Commissioner, Malcolm Newsam to achieve this.”