4.1 The Committee noted the update on the County Council’s revenue and capital outturn expenditure for 2022/23 which had been considered at Cabinet on 21 September 2022.
4.2 The current forecast of the year end revenue position was an overspend of £7.029 million against the revenue budget of £521.330 million, based on forecasts in July 2022 (Period 4) after utilising grants for Covid-19 expenditure. The majority of this overspend was within Children and Families, plus a £1.35 million forecast overspend In Economy, Environment & Infrastructure (EE&I) in relation to road investment and reduced parking income.
4.3 This overspend was slightly offset by an underspend in corporate budgets, £1.4m income from investments and a £1.2m savings contingency.
4.4 Looking at the reserves outlined in Annex 1, it was queried that the vulnerable children’s reserve had increased despite the level of overspend. Members were advised that some of the underspend at year end from Adults had been moved to help mitigate future pressures. This was specifically around transitioning, the Council had a responsibility of care for a vulnerable child until the age of 25, which would see a transition of need from Childrens to Adults social services. The Ash Die Back Reserve had now been allocated as EE&I had a specific programme of works to begin.
4.5 Members discussed the overspend within the Children’s budget, noting the work being carried out by Children and Families Scrutiny Committee to understand the pressures in this area. There was concern that this was a reoccurring issue which showed a lack of sufficient forecasting and future planning in this area during budget setting.
4.6 Officers acknowledged these points but stressed that there simply was not enough resource in the budget to allocate additional funding each year. It would mean very tough decisions as to what departments would go without. The numbers of children in care were going up, as well as the complexity of cases. Officers were constantly working to ensure the right children were being brought into our care, and also ensuring when appropriate, children were being moved back out of the system. In addition, inflation continued to be a problem and trying to predict the impact of inflation 12 months in advance was a challenge.
4.7 Members discussed the cost of complex care, noting there were currently 5 care plans forecast to cost £3.235m. It was explained that these children needed 1:1 24/7 care from highly qualified medical staff within external accommodation. Children services was a demand led service, it was impossible to manage the number and complexity of children coming into care, therefore the only possible variable that could be explored was whether we getting the best value for money from providers.
4.8 A benchmarking exercise had been carried out to compare these costs with other local authorities. It was found that in terms of volume we were above our statistical neighbours but similar to the Southwest and on price, we were now at the top end.
4.9 A member suggested that the Council needed to consider the possibility of borrowing money and investing in some council owned facilities to help manage this issue in the future, potentially even working with other local authorities to share the costs. There was also an issue as to how much preventative work was taking place to stop children coming into care in the first place.
4.10 The Committee suggested that Children and Families Scrutiny should consider an item on value for money of external providers and feasibility of future investment on internal provision.