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Wed, 06 Jul 22 11:59

The Spending Round

Described as ‘turning the page on austerity’ the Spending Round provided short term relief for children’s services, but few reassurances about the future.

Additional investment for children and their families is welcome, and this year’s settlement was at least some recognition that the Association’s concerns are being heard. However, the Chancellor’s pledges fall far short of what is needed.

The settlement included:

• £700 million in 2020/21 for learners with SEND – the LGA estimate £1.6 billion is needed to plug the SEND funding gap by 2021/22

• £1.5 billion for (children’s and adult) social care – even if this was split evenly, we would need four times this amount just to plug the funding gap in children’s services by 2025

• “continued funding for the Troubled Families Programme” – no further detail of how much will be available, but we do know the settlement covers one year only, and the children’s services Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £600 million since 2013.

Over the past three years, there has been uncertainty surrounding all kinds of decisions in Westminster so there is also a question of whether these commitments will stand in the future.

Using evidence to inform decisions, particularly when it concerns the use of public money, is critical. There is no shortage of evidence, from the likes of the NAO, the IFS, select committees and ADCS, illustrating the growing pressures facing children, their families and the services they rely on across the country. Since 2010, local authority budgets have been halved but need has not. To balance the books we are increasingly having to divert funding away from other services our communities rely on, such as children’s centres, youth services and libraries, many of which provide a safety net for children and families before their problems reach crisis point – it’s a vicious cycle. Many of the factors fuelling need for help, and influencing spend, such as rising child poverty, deprivation and the increasing prevalence of domestic abuse, substance misuse and poor parental mental health are not within our gift to influence.

We need a sufficient, long term financial strategy that enables us to invest in a whole range of services that meet the children and families’ needs earlier thus preventing the need for high end statutory services. Without a clear commitment from government in the Queen’s Speech to proper and sustainable investment in children we will be storing up huge human and fiscal costs for the future.

Clearly, turning the page is not enough we need to close the book on austerity.

Rachel Dickinson is Executive Director People at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and ADCS President 2019/20.

This column was first published in the LGC on 7 October |

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