Agenda item

Meeting Theme: Finance

At the 2 March 2023 meeting it was proposed and agreed that as a result of work undertaken in partnership with the Local Government Association the Committee adopt a hybrid model moving forward.


This would be based on the assumption that meetings will last no more than three hours, with two hours focused on the theme and the remaining time on general matters that need to be reviewed by the Committee as existing ongoing business. 


Following consultation with the Director of People, Children and Adults’ Services it was agreed that this meeting would be Finance Themed with reports covering the Draft Budget, Capital and Revenue Budget Monitoring Round 2.





The Committee received a presentation from the Finance Team, the presentation highlighted the budget for different services within the Department, the capital and revenue budget position for the current financial year and the proposed draft budget 2024/2025.


The Chief Finance Officer informed the Committee that the draft budget reflected a new approach where each directorate would operate within an agreed budget and savings would need to be found from within that budget allocation. The overall budget gap for 2024/25 was £35m with £22.6m of savings to be found within the Children and Adult Directorate.


The Head of Corporate Accounts highlighted that the Capital Programme would invest more than £43m to provide more school places in both mainstream and SEND provision and enhance the learning environment. There was a forecast an underspend of £5,000 in relation to Children and Adults programme.


The Head of Revenue Accounts highlighted the current budget position, which represented a forecast overspend of £12m in round 2 for the Council overall. Within the remit of this Committee there was a forecast overspend of £1.9m. This was an improvement of £1.5m from round 1. The majority of the additional spending was in place to support existing packages and placements for young people. The other major pressure related to unaccompanied asylum seeking children. There was an underspend in staffing due to vacancies.


The Education budget currently projected a £1.7m overspend, due primarily to the increased cost of SEND Transport.


The Council was part of the Safety Valve Intervention Programme to support the Council to reduce the deficit reserve in Education which arose following the SEND reforms. The Council’s current deficit reserve was £21.4m and the deficit recovery plan aims to reduce that to £19.3m by the end of the current financial year and to remove the deficit entirely by 2025/2026. The Council has been required to earmark £3m in reserves to insure against any under-delivery of the deficit recovery plan.


Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:


Savings - in response to a query how £22.6m in savings could be made without impacting services, the officer informed the Committee that the £22.6m gap was based on a number of projections of future costs, those costs were currently being reviewed. Additionally, that the Council may be a more attractive place for social workers following the good Ofsted rating, which may assist in reducing reliance on agency staff and create savings, however, addressing the gap remained a challenge.


The Director of People and Deputy Chief Executive added that Children Services had faced significant challenges in its improvement journey, and it had been difficult to recruit staff to an authority which had been judged inadequate. There would be savings available, though this may be limited due to the market. The Committee was informed that there had been positive interest a recent recruitment campaign and the impact of the Ofsted judgement of good was now being positive.


Provider Uplift – in response to a question how the proposed provider uplift of 5.4% had been calculated, the Committee was informed that the Council shared information with other Councils and agencies in regional forums and all packages and placements were made with a clear understanding of costs and expectations of service. The costs were broken down into its service elements to arrive at a calculation and 5.4% was broadly the middle ground of where Councils were likely to provide an uplift.


Placements - in response to a question whether the Council could be sure it received value for money from placements the officer explained that residential placements were regularly reviewed, and the Council robustly challenged any provider that was not meeting the required standard. Eden House Management Team was in place, and it was scheduled to open by the end of the financial year and would provide additional provision.


International Social Workers – in response to a question on whether the change in Government visa rules had adversely affected recruitment, the Director of People and Deputy Chief Executive stated that the change had been made only recently and it was too early to note an impact.


Safety Valve Programme – in response to a question regarding the position of the Safety Valve Programme, the officer stated that the programme was on track. The shortfall had occurred due to an increased student population, this would, however, be reflected in additional income next year.

It was queried whether schools would receive additional funding following the increased student population, the officer explained that schools where bulge classes had been in effect would be in receipt of additional funding.


Social Work Apprenticeships - in response to a question how many social work apprenticeships were accepted, it was explained that four were appointed this financial year and four would be appointed next year.


The Committee was further informed that there was a structured approach with a career pathway to social work for current staff.


Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) - in response to a question whether any additional budget pressure was faced by schools due to the RAAC issue which forced the partial closure of Gun Wharf, the officer informed the Committee there were no budget pressures related to RAAC in schools.


School Improvement – in response to a question whether there had been any negotiation with Academy Trusts in relation to school expansion and building improvements, the Assistant Director Education and SEND explained the responsibility for provision of school places lay with the local authority to provide, so capacity was a matter for the Council.


Budget overspend - a Member commented that an overspend had been forecast at round 2 monitoring for several years so this was not unknown to the Council. The Chief Finance Officer acknowledged this, however, in the last financial year the Council had used £16m in general reserves and those levels of reserves were no longer available and the position was therefore more challenging.


SEN Transport - in response to a question whether the Council had considered investing in after school clubs which could result in savings if it assisted parents to provide transport, the officer informed the Committee that whilst a range of options were under consideration to reduce SEND transport costs, this did not currently include after school clubs to facilitate parents providing transport. The officer undertook to add this to the potential range of options to be considered.