The rising number of children in care is causing ‘concern’ for Hampshire County Council, which is on course to exceed spending targets this year.
In a report to be presented to cabinet on Monday, the council as a whole, is described as in a ‘very strong position’ financially. However, children’s services is said to be the ‘main area of concern’ as the spending target – reduced by £6.3 million to £888m this year – is unlikely to be met.
This is due to a higher than anticipated rise in the number of children in care, with increases as high as 17.5% at the end of 2013/14, as well as an increased workload across the spectrum of children’s care.
The cabinet is expected to approve an addition of £12.5m in the 2015/16 budget for children’s services to combat spending pressures.
The reduced budget for the department was due to the government’s withdrawal of its early intervention grant, as part of its spending review.
A growing older population has also put pressure on the council’s adult services budget, with Hampshire adding £10m to this budget each year since 2011/12.
The report states: “Although this growth highlights a worrying trend, the recent Ofsted inspection concluded that Hampshire ‘had the right children in care’, which re-confirms a long-held view that the county council’s gatekeeping continues to be effective in what is a complex and ever-changing environment.”
The council has warned of further funding cuts to services as it prepares to deal with a further reduction in the money it is allocated from central government.
The council has already budgeted to reduce spending by more than £250m by next year but is likely to have to make a further £98m of savings by 2018.
The report indicates that the council is expecting a 10%-per-year decrease in government grant funding, but is not planning to increase council tax for the period up to 2017/18.
Services have been asked to develop further revenue savings proposals over the next six months, in time for next year’s budget decisions.
The council is adopting a new digital strategy to modernise the way services are delivered, a business development strategy for sharing and trading services to generate income, and is making more innovative use of its assets.
These activities will be supported by the capital programme which, at £765m over three years, is the largest ever injection of public sector capital into Hampshire.
Council leader Roy Perry said: “I well understand the government’s need to bring public expenditure back under control but with further grant reductions to come, and no let-up in demand for care services – that are becoming more expensive to provide – decisions around future spending are becoming increasingly difficult.
“We will continue to make further efficiencies and maximise return on every pound spent while at the same time finding further opportunities to create new and sustainable ways of providing quality public services to the residents of Hampshire.”