Bexley forecasts record £13m overspend in childcare services

By Joe Coughlan, Local Democracy Reporter

Bexley council has predicted a ‘record’ overspend in children’s services of more than £13million due to difficulties in recruiting staff and continued impacts of the pandemic.

Council officers said in a recent report that figures from February this year stated the deficit was forecast to reach £13.3m by the end of the current financial year.

The majority of the figure was attributed to children’s social care, which contributed £12.4m of the projected deficit.

The topic was discussed at a Bexley council meeting on April 24. Labour councillor Zainab Asunramu asked Conservative councillor Philip Read, cabinet member for children’s services, what measures were being taken to combat the deficit, which she described as a ‘record overspend’ in the department.

Cllr Read said specialist placements and staffing budgets had contributed. Council documents from a cabinet meeting on April 16 stated that the use of agency staff as well as vacancies in the department had led to a forecasted overspend of £3.7m in staffing budgets.

Specialist placements were reported to have an overspend of £6.9m due to an increased use of independent fostering agencies as the council’s in-house service couldn’t handle the workload on its own.

Prices for residential placements in the past two years were also said to have increased to more than £8,000 a week in some cases, while the number of care leavers in semi-independent placements, instead of general needs housing, had also risen.

Cllr Read said £1.7m in savings had been identified to help reduce the black hole. He added that monthly panels for care leavers and looked-after children were being used to review the highest cost placements and had already provided more than £1.3m in cost reductions.

The cabinet member said: “We continue to see significant pressures on the service and those pressures have arisen because of the impact of the pandemic. However, there are early indications that the numbers of contact and referrals to our children’s social care service are reducing.”

Pictured top: Bexley Civic Offices, where Bexley council is based (Picture: Google Street View)

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