Leeds City Council to debate £11m “overspend” in children’s services

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Councillors will today debate an alleged “overspend” of £11million by Leeds City Council’s children’s services department.

Dan Cohen, the authority’s Conservative shadow spokesman on children’s services, has submitted a motion to the monthly full council meeting calling for “greater scrutiny” of the department’s budget, after claiming the department had overspent its budget by nearly £8 million in the last financial year.

And he has expressed concern that after just two months of the current financial year, the same directorate has a projected overspend of £2.9m.

Speaking ahead of the debate at Leeds Civic Hall today, councillor Cohen said he accepted that many of the pressures in the department were “demand-led” as a result of unanticipated levels of need in areas like children in care, but said the time had come for more attention to be paid the knock-on effect on other council departments.

He said: “We agree that the council must meet the needs that arise in Children and Families, including the vital work around supporting Children Looked After.

“Money must be provided to meet those demands.

“But, of course, when a department overspends on its budget, it means the money needs to be found from other areas of council spend, which is bound to have an effect on other departments’ plans. In the last few years the department has repeatedly reported an overspend, even as other departments are delivering underspends. It is also projecting to overspend in the current year.

“That raises serious questions about why the budget setting process in Children and Families is failing to accurately project levels of demand. We do need to scrutinise why budget planning in this directorate has been so far out of sync with reality.”

Responding to the concerns ahead of today’s meeting, councillor Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for Children and Families, said: “Under this Government we have lost around £43million in funding for Children’s Services and yet we have stood by our commitment to protect the most vulnerable and continue to invest in frontline services.

“We have made fantastic progress in reducing the numbers of looked after children by 12% and by bucking the national trend of a 9.4% increase in these numbers have saved approximately £13m a year.

“The LGA has warned that by 2020 there will be a national funding gap of £2bn for Children’s Services, this simply isn’t acceptable and is made even more difficult to accept when £1bn has just been found to keep Theresa May in Downing Street. The government needs to accept that by investing now in early intervention and prevention programmes, savings will be achieved in the long term and our children and young people will have better outcomes.”