Sunderland council agrees to give £6.5m to support £8m children's service deficit

Council bosses have agreed to spend an extra £6.5million to support the agency responsible for Sunderland's children's services after it ended the year with a £8million deficit.

Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 5:39 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 11:12 am

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet met to discuss Together for Children (TFC) as part of updates on the 2017/18 revenue budget.

TFC took over management of the council’s childrens services in 2017 after they were graded as “inadequate” by Ofsted in July 2015.

Council leader Graeme Miller.

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Although recent government inspections have seen improvements, a report states TFC is in a “deficit position” due to increased numbers of looked after children and continued use of agency workers.

The report adds the TFC Board expect another budget overspend of around £7.6m for 2018/19 due to the above issues and failing to deliver previous savings targets.

It comes after the Echo reported the total amount paid to agency workers in 2017/18 was £6.14m.

Together for Children paid for 167 temps during 2017/18, this included 97 social workers at a cost of £4,282,958 - an average of £44,154.21 per social worker.

Coun Robert Oliver.

Although the 2017/18 revenue budget had a total underspend of £778,000 which could be used to deliver services in 2018/19, council bosses stated children’s services remained under pressure nationally.

Members of the city cabinet, sitting at Sunderland Civic Centre, argued budget cuts caused by government austerity measures were to blame.

Cabinet member for children, learning and skills, Louise Farthing, said the council didn’t have a “bottomless pit” of funds, adding “we can’t continue with this manufactured austerity”.

Council leader Graeme Miller added: “When you have the poor paying for tax cuts to the rich for the last nine years don’t be surprised when children suffer from it.

Coun Niall Hodson.

“Together for Children is in a perfect storm of having an increased demand on its services and having to work through a system that the Tory government have imposed on us.”

While a new chief executive and director of finance are expected to be appointed and review TFC’s finances this summer, the cabinet agreed to the £6.5m funds to support the agency.

Around £3.5m will be released on an ongoing basis by the council and would be funded by corporate budget savings.

A further £3m will be stored in one-off reserves and released to TFC after evidence is provided that management is improving.

TFC will also have to provide SCC with  plans addressing any funding shortfall for the next year and predictions for its finances into 2019/20.

Leader of SCC’s liberal democrats group, Niall Hodson, said the decision represented council leaders “bailing out TFC yet again”.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “There is a national problem with funding of social care and in particular children’s social services and Sunderland is feeling that.

“The reason the council set up TFC was because they were failing to provide adequate social care.

“At some point they have to take responsibility for what’s going on.”

Leader of the council’s Conservative group, Robert Oliver, also speaking after the meeting, raised concerns about the issue.

“TFC has cost the taxpayer an extra £8million during the last year and assurances about cutting costs have not been met,” he said.

“Many councils are facing the challenges of recruiting permanent social workers but the failed Ofsted inspection in Sunderland is making matters worse.

“The agreed savings of £2million have also not been met which adds to the ballooning cost of TFC and paints a picture of an inefficient council.”

A spokeperson for TFC added:  “Over the last financial year we have seen unprecedented demand for our services, with the number of children and families that need our support continuing to rise.

“This increase in demand means additional investment is required to ensure we can continue to work with our strategic partner organisations to support the most vulnerable children in the city.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service