Hertfordshire one of many county councils facing overspend amid calls for emergency funding

The County Council Network is calling for emergency funding for childrens’ services nationally
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WITH some of the country’s largest county councils – including Hertfordshire – forecasting 2023/24 overspends, the County Council Network is calling for emergency funding for childrens’ services nationally.

In September, Hertfordshire County Council signalled that it was heading for a £16.4m overspend by the end of 2023/4.

And now research by the County Council Network (CCN) has revealed Hertfordshire is far from alone – with a survey of 41 county and unitary councils predicting a collective overspend in excess of £600m.

Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

One in 10 of these councils, say the CCN, are ‘unsure’ – or ‘not confident’ – that they can balance their budget this year.

And they point to high inflation, rising demand and ‘broken’ provider markets for children in care leading to the high overspends.

In a bid to reduce its own spending, the Hertfordshire County Council has already introduced a policy of ‘recruitment prioritisation’ – freezing recruitment to all but essential roles.

And they have earmarked a further £10m from their contingency budgets that could be used to plug the gap if necessary.

Responding to the CCN research, leader of Herts County Council Cllr Richard Roberts has acknowledged the council’s financial pressures.

But he says that the council is now ‘in a good place’ to balance the budget this year.

“This research confirms what we in Hertfordshire have known for a long time, high inflation and increasing demand for children’s services are placing an enormous strain on council finances across the nation,” said Cllr Roberts.

“We are seeing the financial pressures mentioned by CCN borne out across our balance sheet, but thanks to our prudent financial planning and a range of savings we are in a good place to balance our budget this year.

“We remain committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our communities but know that without reform and the creation of affordable provision nationally across children’s services, particularly for those with special educational needs and disabilities, the pressures will continue and get worse.”

The County Council Network is a cross-party organisation representing 20 county councils and 17 unitary councils.