£5m of needed savings in failing Northamptonshire children's services department looking unlikely

More than 5m of planned for savings may not be achievable within Northamptonshire chiidren's services.
More than 5m of planned for savings may not be achievable within Northamptonshire chiidren's services.

Northamptonshire County Council is predicting it won’t be able to make more than £5m of budgeted savings from its failing children’s services department.

Cutting £10m from the service was part of the council’s budget plan unveiled in February but now the authority is predicting that a large chunk of those savings cannot be made.

And of the £41m of savings needed across the entire council to make sure it balances its books, at the moment it thinks £7.8m will not be made – with £5.4m of that in children’s services. In total the predicted deficit is £5.6m – a slight improvement on what the authority was predicting last month.

The figures have been detailed in a finance report which will be discussed by the council’s cabinet next week (Aug 14).

The report says that predicted savings by converting its high numbers of agency workers to permanent staff, reorganising departments and recruiting more international social workers are now unlikely. Hoped-for savings of £500,000 in legal costs is now uncertain because of uncertainty about how long some current cases will run for.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Northamptonshire County Council Chris Stanbra said there is a conflict between trying to turn the service around and making savings.

He said: “In February we were told these savings were deliverable. Nobody was saying we might not be able to make these.

“I imagine there is a conflict between delivering improvements and delivering the intended savings.”

Chairman of the scrutiny committee Cllr Mick Scrimshaw also has concerns. He said: “The pressures are in children’s services although there is also a shortfall in adult services. We are moving towards a children’s trust which is going to complicate the the massive transformation programme that has been planned. We know from the latest Ofsted report that not only is the service not improving, it seems to be getting worse. This is a huge concern.”

The service is led by director Sally Hodges, who herself is being overseen by Government-appointed commissioner Malcolm Newsam.

As Mrs Hodges only came into post in February the budget setting would have been worked on by previous interim director of children’s services Sharon Muldoon in co-ordination with chief executive Theresa Grant.

The children’s service was judged inadequate by Ofsted and is struggling to find and keep staff. Last week Sally Hodges said the service has had to let go some agency staff who are not up to the difficult job.

The finance report says: “This forecast is clearly of concern for the council. There has been increased reporting rigour throughout the organisation and as such, the current position has been identified and understood a lot earlier than would have been the case in previous years, which provides more time to develop further management actions to mitigate the overspend position in order to successfully balance 2019-20 budget.”

The authority, which overspent by £35m in 2017/18, does have £2.1m set aside in a contingency budget which it can use towards any deficit. It is currently set aside for the children’s services improvement plan.