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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

The time for investing in children is now...

It’s Wednesday lunchtime as I sit here and write this blog – it’s not just 58 days until Christmas (don’t!) but also the day the Chancellor unveils his spending plans for the budget, so I’m frequently looking at my phone for live updates and emails for any initial analysis from Derby’s Section 151 Officer.

Let’s face it, we’re all hoping this will be a Spending Review that will major on children, young people and families, and have recovery from the pandemic at the core. This is the ideal opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to children which is surely integral to their ‘levelling up’ agenda. ADCS sent in a robust submission to the Spending Review with a focus on addressing the ongoing and future scarring of children and young people from the pandemic, prevention, care and sufficiency of placements, education and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). All these areas are significant and require investment to help the system deal with current and predicted future demand.

One of the areas we’ve been talking about a lot in ADCS, more locally as a regional group of DCSs, and in Derby, is SEND. We still await the outcome of the SEND review which is now well overdue and, with a new Children’s Minister who has been pretty much silent (at the time of writing this blog) on his portfolio since taking up office, I fear might be kicked even further into the long grass. It’s vitally important that the government conclude and report on the SEND review and give councils long term certainty of funding to meet the current and growing number of children and young people with SEND. We all know that demand for funding via the high needs block is unsustainable and we’re seeing increasingly eye-watering deficits in councils. Reform of the SEND reforms is really the only way we can realistically tackle the year-on-year growth in demand for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), alongside government providing realistic capital funding to local authorities so that they can open special schools or invest in more Enhanced Resource Schools in mainstream schools for children with particular needs.

Growing numbers of EHCPs also means there is a significant pressure on home to school transport budgets; ADCS reported that local authorities spend in excess of £1 billion per annum on transporting children to and from school. Whilst councils actively look at commissioning and efficiencies in contracts to reduce costs, this is unsustainable. I was only talking to my lead member for children’s services this week about the home to school transport costs in Derby and that we could be in a situation next year when this becomes equally, if not more, pressured than the costs of placements for children in care.

By the time you read this we will know the detail of the Spending Review and what this means for children, young people and families, and of course the broader landscape for local government as we all develop and consult on our Medium Term Financial Plans. Let’s hope this is a budget that delivers a better deal for children.

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