Predicted overspend of £5m on children and families services

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CHILDREN and families services in Portsmouth will cost taxpayers £5m more than budgeted, it has been predicted.

Having exceeded its budget for the past four years, the council portfolio is expected to continue this trend between 2018 and 2019, costing more than the original overspend prediction of £4.2m.

In a report compiled ahead of tomorrow's children and families meeting it was revealed that children's social care and safeguarding is the biggest drain on funds.

In total this service will cost £5.2m more than expected, with most of this to be spent on finding homes for children, via means such as adoption and fostercare. However, these costs exclude housing Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASCs).

The report detailed: ‘The most significant area of overspend relates to the cost of looked after children placements. In particular external residential placements account for £3.7m of the forecast overspend as a result of placements exceeding the budgeted number by some 15 placements.’

But Portsmouth City Council's head of children and families, Cllr Rob Wood, was confident that the money was well spent. He said: 'Like many authorities across the country Portsmouth is no different in having a projected overspend for children's services.

'The welfare of any child is the portfolio's highest priority, and our detailed strategy aims to reduce the need for children to be taken into care, and avoiding the most expensive placements where possible, whilst ensuring children are kept safe and well.

'The current overspend is being carefully reviewed, and already the estimate has reduced down to £4.6m (from the report estimate of £5.1m) for this year.'

The report also highlighted that one area which underspent its budget was salaries within the early help and intervention sector, due to staff leaving the service and not being replaced. This resulted in savings of £87,000.

At previous children and families meetings councillors had voiced concerns that staff in the service were over-worked as a result.

However, Cllr Wood added: 'Our staff turnover is around 12 per cent, which is very low compared to many areas. We keep vacancies minimised so we can always provide a safe and efficient service that provides the best for the city's children.'

Portsmouth City Council was also noted in the report as spending less than other authorities. The report stated: 'Whilst spending in children's social care is outside of the allocated budget in Portsmouth, we are not considered a high spending service when benchmarked against comparators; rather, recent activity with the Local Government Association (Newton Consultants) highlighted Portsmouth as low spending in children's social care in comparison with other authorities.'

Other areas in the portfolio, troubled families and early help and intervention, are not predicted to overspend with their budgets provided by a grant and public health funding allocation. 

The report will be discussed in full at a children and families cabinet meeting tomorrow afternoon.