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Norfolk County Council debates early intervention for children’s services to save money (14 September 2015)

Date: 14/09/2015
Duncan Lewis, Child Care Solicitors, Norfolk County Council debates early intervention for children’s services to save money

Norfolk County Council’s Children’s Services Committee is to meet on Tuesday (15/09/15), to discuss how services for vulnerable children and families can be improved – as well as measures to reduce the high cost of intervention and help plug the council’s funding gap.

The council is to discuss potential areas where savings could be made –
Including a renewed emphasis on investing in early help for children and vulnerable families, as well as a reduction in the cost of transport for children with special educational needs, by providing more inclusive education services.

The committee meeting will be the third of its kind and members will consider budget savings options for the next three years.

The council is facing the challenge of providing services with only 75% of the current budget.

The council says the focus will remain on reducing the numbers of children in care in the county, as well as helping families early and before they reach crisis point.

The council says this would reduce the number of families accessing high-cost child protection services – and would lead to better outcomes for children and young people.

A report to Children’s Services members states that, to achieve 25% of savings, the council would need to reduce its number of looked-after children from its current 1,049 to 420.

The reports says this is a challenge which is unlikely to be possible because of the increase in the general population – and a national trend involving increasing numbers of children in care.

The predicted shortfall for the next three years for Norfolk County Council is an estimated £111 million.

The council is modelling its future services on a larger shortfall figure of £169m, however.

This is to enable members to have choices and options about how best to prioritise council spending across services. During September and October, all council committees have been challenged to set out how they would deliver services with 75% of their addressable budget – bringing forward initial ideas and savings proposals to bridge the gap over the next three years.

Since 2011, Norfolk County Council has made savings of £244m from service budgets – due to a reduction in central government funding, increasing demand for its services and inflationary pressures.

Chairman of the Children’s Services, James Joyce, said:

“The savings being asked of the council are phenomenal – and we face an unprecedented challenge in achieving such a sizeable reduction in our budget; particularly when such a considerable amount of our work in Children’s Services is both statutory and vital.

“Although early help is a non-statutory service, we must continue our focus on helping families early, because preventing crises before they develop is much more cost effective.

“Likewise, we want to ensure that all children are taught close to their homes, with a far more inclusive education system that supports children in their local communities.

“However, when looking at savings of this scale, it won’t be possible to protect all services – which is why members of the committee are being asked for their early views.

“The priorities must be to continue to be to protect the most vulnerable – and to support and challenge Norfolk’s schools to deliver the excellent education their pupils deserve; and this will be a key consideration of the committee.”

A public consultation will be launched at the end of October and will run until midnight on Thursday, 14 January 2016, with decisions due to be made in February.

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