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Derbyshire County Council considers childcare scheme changes in bid to save ‘£3.9m’

Parents and child agencies are being urged to contribute to discussions with Derbyshire County Council about the proposed restructure of its Early Help services and children’s centres to save around £3.9m, as part of the authority’s plans to balance its multi-million pound budget gaps.

The Conservative-controlled council has voted to set a balanced budget with an agreement on how it will manage its finances for the 2024-25 financial year.  This includes saving proposals to be considered and implemented – including a review of its provision of Early Help services and children’s centres – to balance a forecast budget shortfall of nearly £40m.

At a cabinet meeting, on February 1, the council also approved plans for a six-week public consultation – which opened on February 12 and runs until March 24 – for parents and partner agencies to submit views and help with the council’s review and potential redesign of its provision of Early Help services and Children’s Centres.

Cllr Julie Patten, Cabinet member for Children and Families, told the meeting that children’s services have already put forward possible plans to save around £2.8m from the Early Help service and Children’s Centre provision to set a balanced budget, and plans have also been proposed not to extend the Early Help Development Team beyond July 31 reducing demand for the Supporting Families reserve by £1.6m per year.

She added: “In relation to Early Help and Children’s Centres there is a proposed six-week consultation with the public and partner agencies. Some of these include schools, Derbyshire police, CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and Public Health.”

Cllr Patten stressed local authorities need to find a more efficient way forward with Early Help services and Children’s Centres and that any potential changes will be subject to a consultation.

The council is already considering the most efficient use of disabled residential services in one of its homes called The Getaway – which provides residential short breaks or care to disabled children – as well as considering the support services provided to families in local communities through its Outback service which supports disabled children in their own homes.

Derbyshire County Council has also stated that its battle to meet the rising costs faced by its children’s services, adult social care and education is among its biggest financial concerns and that the rising costs are outside of its control.

A council report stated at the end of last year that there was a continued demand for Children’s services, Safeguarding and Education services and combined with rising costs this has resulted in the significant estimated budget overspend.

The report added that expenditure on placements for children in care or alternatives to care has continued to rise due to an increase in the average weekly cost of placements, a shortage of foster care places, and an increase in the number of children requiring support resulting in additional costs for Children’s Safeguarding Services.   

It also stated that the budget forecast overspend on Children’s Services and Safeguarding and Education stands at around £17.9m.   

The Council Leader, Cllr Barry Lewis, and the Deputy Leader, Cllr Simon Spencer, have also stated that the Government needs to make a potential change in legislation with a cap on what the council regards as crippling fees and costs from private providers for some childcare services.   

However, both the leader and deputy leader have offered reassurances to residents that all efforts are being made by the council to protect vital services, especially around social care for children and adults.  

Cllr Patten has previously stated that more children are needing support and the demands are increasing and in relation to private care provision she said she was aware of one placement costing £12,000 a week and she too has criticised private providers to the council who are ‘making huge profits out of young people’s misery’.  

Concerning the council’s Early Help Services and Children’s Centres consultation, Cllr Alex Dale, Cabinet member for Education, said: “There are opportunities to rationalise assets and deliver services in a better way that make sense on a lot of levels.

“This is a consultation with nothing set out yet. This is an ideas-based consultation and we want the public to reshape this service.”

He added that the council is not the only local authority facing such challenges but it needs to make the best use of its resources.

Cllr Dale has also previously said, in relation to private providers, that they are being allowed to make millions of pounds in profits and this money was not being properly reinvested back into supporting children’s services to bring costs down.

Concerning the consultation, Cllr Lewis, also said: “No decision has been made at this point. This is a consultation with service users and everybody else and hopefully we will end up with a service that will be stronger as a consequence.”  

The council has reduced its estimated in-year 2023-24 budget shortfall of £46.4m to £34.1m which it intends to further reduce with funds released from earmarked reserves and by tight cost controls on non-essential spending. 

It has also compiled a number of saving proposals – including the review od its Early Help services and Children’s Centres provision – to meet an estimated budget deficit of more than £39m for the 2024-25 financial year which begins on April 1.   

A council spokesperson stated: “In common with authorities across the country, we’re facing budgetary pressures far greater than experienced before, due to factors beyond our control.    

“These include dealing with higher than anticipated inflation and higher prices for fuel, energy and materials, meeting the cost of the national pay award set nationally but met locally, and the continued unprecedented increase in demand for vital adults’ and children’s social care services.   

“The changes are needed in order to support us setting a balanced budget. Around £3.9 million needs to be saved from the Early Help service and Children’s Centre budgets.”    

Derbyshire County Council’s Early Help teams and Children’s Centres’ provision delivers a range of services including health visitors, speech and language development, healthy eating, parenting, school readiness, family support, parenting groups, and improvements for family relationships.      

The council’s Early Help service is delivered through its Children’s Centres and in families’ homes, and the centre buildings used by the council teams provide support groups and activities and they are also used by other organisations to help children, families and the community. 

Children’s Centres can be located in Chesterfield, Bolsover and NE Derbyshire, Amber Valley,  High Peak and the North Dales, Erewash, South Derbyshire and the South Dales.

Those wishing to take part in the consultation can do so by visiting the county council’s website link https://online1.snapsurveys.com/interview/b23c433f-faab-4be3-b549-0d43b0f2587e for details.

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