The delay of controversial changes to Bucks’ children’s services, has caused a ‘£1.5 million headache’ according to a leading politician.
The county council’s children’s services budget was put under the spotlight at a meeting of the finance, performance and resources select committee on Tuesday September 11.
During the mid-year budget review cabinet member Warren Whyte announced the failing service has bust its budget by £1.9 million at the end of the first quarter of the year.
The councillor said one of the main reasons behind the budget’s black hole is the delay of the new early help scheme – which includes the potential closure of the county’s children’s centres.
A consultation into scrapping Bucks’ 35 centres was put on hold in March this year after families raised concerns over the quality of the investigation, with the county council admitting further talks with members of the public needed to take place before the new service is implemented.
Now Cllr Whyte has revealed the delay has cost £1.5 million in savings expected to be made following the launch of the new early help scheme – which aims to improve early intervention for children and families in need.
He said: “We had budgeted £1.5 million saving this financial year, and because I put a pause on that programme to be launched next year that has caused us a £1.5 million headache.
“I am desperate to get the consultation out for early help.
“I believe that by improving our early help services we can make a significant difference to children that come to our attention too late and become a child in need or a child protection case.
“I hope we can have a productive consultation process in October to move forward with the new service in September 2019.”
The councillor warned that next year’s budget is also expected to suffer due to the delay.
A rise in the number of children in care, high cost placements for looked after children, and legal costs due to increased demand have all contributed to the budget pressures.
A change in the complexity and demographic of cases has also created fresh challenges for the council, including domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health issues.
Executive director for children’s services, Tolis Vouyioukas, said: “What we have seen in the last eight to nine months is the change of the profile of demographics.
“That will of course change the environment of the work we do as we have to identify the needs, take appropriate action and take people into care, which is always absolutely the very last resort.”
Creating new children’s homes in the county, a review of high cost placements and the launch of a court team all hope to free up more cash for the struggling service.