The county council is set for another multi-million overspend on children’s services.
This is largely due to continuing increases in children it must take into its care and which need special educational support in school.
This year’s Derbyshire County Council’s children’s services overspend could hit £6 million and follows last year’s £4.3 million overspend and 2017’s £6.4 million overspend.
For the current year, the council has a children’s services budget of £110.6 million – a £6 million overspend represents 5.4 per cent.
Peter Handford, the county council’s finance director, has said that the council is currently on track for a £3 million overspend, but the anticipated eventual overspend could be as high as £4 million to £6 million “depending on the continued trend in the rate of placements for children in care”.
Of the current forecast, £1.25 million relates to children with disabilities due to the increasing demand for support and complexity of some individuals’ needs.
An increase in the number of children with special educational needs (SEN) is also “driving demand” for the council’s psychology and the planning and assessment teams.
Much of this will relate to Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans – legal documents agreed between a pupil, parent, school and the county council which lays out the support which the child is entitled to.
The council has spent thousands of pounds fighting appeals relating to these documents – of which it has thousands on its books.
It has been lambasted by a number of parents of children with special educational needs over delays or a lack of action on vital assessments.
Meanwhile, the authority says that there are currently more placements required for children in the council’s care than can be funded from the allocated budget.
A further nearly £600,000 relates to an increase in the number of home to school journeys provided to children with SEN and an increase in the cost of those journeys “driven by economic factors and the need to provide more specialised vehicles”.
Mr Handford says that the council must make cuts of £16.9 million this year in its total budget of £505.8 million, of which just £10.7 million is expected to be achieved.
The authority must save £63 million by 2023.
In a press release, council leader, Coun Barry Lewis, said that “while the council continued to face budget challenges, with significant pressures in children’s social care, special educational needs provision, highways maintenance and waste, the enterprising council approach was ensuring modern and innovative ways of providing services were being explored and value for money continued to be at the heart of all the council’s work”.
Coun Lewis said: “As with authorities across the country, we continue to face significant challenges, which is why we are an enterprising council and are continuing with our fair funding campaign, lobbying Derbyshire MPs, central government and individual ministers to insist that funding for local authorities is shared out fairly and can cover the rising cost of vital services.
“With prudent management we aim to achieve and maintain a stable financial position and our plans still include freezing council tax for two years if possible.
“However, there is much work to be done and difficult decisions to make over the next five years.”
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service