Vital services for some of the most vulnerable children in Herts among mounting costs for council

Budget forecast reveals increasing costs in children's services
Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

ACCOMMODATION for children in care and the cost of transporting children with special needs to and from school, are among the mounting financial pressures facing Hertfordshire County Council.

Latest data shows that – without action – the council’s children’s services are heading for a £12.9m overspend this year (2023/24).

And that’s the lion-share of the £16.4m overspend being predicted across council services.

Finance chiefs say the increased costs reflect high inflation and higher service costs, coupled with increases in demand.

The largest increase in the children’s services budget is in the ‘independent placements’ allocated to looked after children, which are placements purchased by the council, rather than provided ‘in-house’.

Although the council’s budget had allocated £43.6m for ‘independent placements’, the council is now predicting a £3.6m overspend.

Meanwhile the council is also predicting a £1.7m additional spend on provision for separated migrant children – up to £2.4m from the allocated £700,000.

And ‘residential services’ are forecasting an overspend of £1.3m, on its initial budget of £8.6m – largely due, say finance officers, to the continued use of outside agency workers to cover staff vacancies.

Also ranking amongst the largest overspends is in the cost of home to school transport for SEND children.

Despite an allocated budget of £36.7m for 2023/24, the service is now expected to overspend by £1.1m.

According to the finance report, there have been 3468 pupils using the service – with average costs rising from £8,843 per pupil to £9701. But the number of pupils is expected to increase to 3700.

In addition the report also says that the music service – which offers instrumental lessons to school children – is forecast to ‘overspend’ by £605,000 in 2023/24.

The report suggests that uptake of lessons has not returned to pre-covid levels, which it puts down to the cost of living crisis and ongoing pressures on school budgets.

And it also points to employer pension contribution costs, which are linked to the costs of increased employer contribution rates for the teachers’ pension scheme.

“Hertfordshire Music Service has undertaken a rigorous programme to identify savings and eliminate inefficiencies and this work continues,” says the report.