Portsmouth council leader slams grant snub for city’s children in care

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson
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THE city's most vulnerable children are being 'penalised' as services were rated too highly for a potential £4m boost from government, a council leader has said.

Head of Portsmouth City Council, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, branded the decision 'bizarre' as the city continues to struggle with an influx of child asylum seekers as well as children needing care.

Last year the government announced that £84m would be made available to a maximum of 20 local authorities to improve support services to prevent children going into care.

However, it was only available to children's services with a 'requires improvement' rating or below from Ofsted. Portsmouth services reached a 'good' rating in September last year.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: 'It just seems bizarre. We had to make sure our services were improving as funding was being cut left right and centre. And now that we've done well we can't qualify for any money.

'If we were rubbish we would.'

This week Cllr Vernon-Jackson appealed to Minister for Children Nadim Zahawi to ask for a change in policy.

In a letter he wrote: 'Our disappointment when it became clear last month that only authorities rated "requires improvement" or below would be eligible was huge. We worked so hard, without external help, to achieve our "good" rating in September 2018.

'I simply cannot understand why we are now being penalised for that, with no access to funding to bring about the service transformation we badly need.'

Currently there are around 400 children in care in Portsmouth, and 100 unaccompanied asylum seeking children - up from 80 last year.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: 'The government don't pay for the unaccompanied asylum seeking children properly. The government said it would refund the cost but it didn't. It's costing us £1m a year.

'We have asked to meet with the minister but we have been ignored.'

Head of children and families at the council, Cllr Rob Wood, agreed that action was needed. 'Clearly we are just as needy in terms of funding as other authorities,' he said.

'We are challenging the decision because the threshold needs to be a bit more flexible. Otherwise councils will think what is the point in improving services?'

An extra £3m was allocated to the children social care budget this year, but a council report stated: 'The council's budget for children's social care has been and remains under significant pressure despite the addition.'

City cabinet members will discuss the situation at a meeting today.