£1.6m overspend on children's social care in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council's HQ in Morpeth.
Northumberland County Council's HQ in Morpeth.

An overspend of £1.6million on children’s social care in Northumberland is predicted this year despite an additional £3million in the budget.

And that growth in the department’s budget for 2018-19 is over and above £2.5million added in the previous financial year.

The concerning figure is included in a report to Thursday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services committee.

It follows news that the local authority needs to make additional cuts of £27million over the next three years as the projected overall deficit is now £36million.

A report to councillors says that the forecast position for children’s social care as at the end of June this year is a £1.641million overspend, ‘largely due to the continuing cost pressures around external residential placements across a mixture of independent special schools, residential homes and short-term property rentals for young people’.

It goes on to explain that of the additional £3million in this year’s budget, £2.2million was used to meet existing pressures ‘including the rising cost of external residential placements and special guardianship orders, while the remaining £0.8million was used to create the social work academy and to support a staffing restructure across various teams’.

The report adds that these pressures are ‘partly linked to a shortage of special school places in Northumberland, although the creation of additional special school places at Hexham Priory and The Dales special schools could potentially help to alleviate the situation’.

Earlier this year, the county council approved the creation of an extra 50 places at Blyth’s The Dales, through the creation of a satellite site in Ashington, to be called Ashdale, while an additional 32 places are to be provided at Hexham Priory by expanding the school building.

Funding of £1.9million for Ashdale and £1.1million for the Priory had already been approved last year. This is not from the children’s social care budget.

It was originally hoped the new spaces would be ready for the start of the academic year this month, but in June it was revealed that ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’, the construction work would not be completed in time and the implementation dates are now November 1 for Hexham Priory and December 1 for Ashdale.

The council also has also plans to develop additional in-house residential homes, however, they are unlikely to be ready before 2019-20.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporter