Agenda item

Budget Monitoring:Scrutiny of the budget monitoring capital and revenue position at Month 7, setting the context for scrutiny of budget proposals.


Tyrone Stokes and Nicola Wellington presented the report and answered the members’ questions.


Are we working closely with colleagues in health and children’s services so we know well in advance which children coming through will need to go to out-of-county provision later, so we can build the costs into the budget for years ahead?

We are well aware of the education costs coming through, and in recent years we have seen an improvement in forecasting. In recent months, we have put in place a tracker that will track pupils from the start of their education, and therefore the costs as they move through their education. That will certainly give us a lot more clarity around the future costs for all of our pupils. We work very closely with health and education colleagues. When a child is presented to the local authority, we have a multi-agency approach: we deal with health, and try to secure the appropriate funding; similarly with education, and if they need higher education support, we can again tap into the relevant body. In Social Care and Children’s Services, we have had a tracker in place for the last 7 or 8 years. A few years ago, officers brought a paper to this committee covering the range of unit costs for a looked-after child: on average, it is £45k per year. But there is a big variation: if children are in foster care, the unit cost is £28-30k per year but if they are in out-of-county residential care, it could be as much as £300-500k per year. Children’s Services are now in a very good place, having bolstered our intervention and prevention, and have done a fantastic job in recent years. Looked-after children numbers are stabilising at 220.  What we can’t reassure members is how the numbers will fluctuate as we come out of the pandemic, and the direction the courts will give us. Another paper that went to members previously concerned the MIST support team that can look at more in-house and community-based services on offer, rather than having to put looked-after children into expensive out of county placements.

With pressures on budgets, are we still investing heavily in prevention and family support services? Presumably, the stabilised numbers are unlikely to continue when the effects of the pandemic hit later on?

Yes, this is the difficulty now: as we start moving out, we can’t be complacent that the numbers are stabilising. We are still heavily investing in the preventative intervention services, and in next year’s budget, we are looking to address the in-year deficit for children’s services – so we are continuing that investment as well.

Could we have the overall figure of what the overall deficit in month 7 is, and how it relates to the CYP budget?

The Month 7 deficit was on overspend of £6.43m for the council revenue fund, of which £5.91m related to Covid. In terms of children’s services, none of that relates to Covid – any Covid-related pressures there have been recovered fully through the Hardship fund. The overspend in children’s services is £1.46m, which relates to the costs we would have had anyway, due to an increase in looked-after children numbers (just over £1.1m), the in-year increased pay award and the legal costs. CYP is £125k over.

There is clearly a financial benefit to recruiting our own staff in children’s services, as well as a human one. Might the cost of agency staff be removed in the next year?

When we set the budget, we had 197 looked-after children, which increased to 218 within a few months. This impacts on the other support services: legal, transportation and staffing. Sometimes we have to go to agency staff to tide us over while we’re trying to recruit, and to deal with a sharp increase in looked-after numbers. We have a workforce plan and a group that looks at this on an ongoing basis to see how we can maximise the opportunity to recruit in-house.

What proportion over the 12 months has been agency staff, and what is the contract commitment for an agency worker?

A few years ago, our percentage of agency staff was much higher. The staffing complement in children’s services is probably more stable than it has been in the last decade. As mentioned above, there is an active plan that reviews and monitors the agency requirement and uptake. We are attracting quality people who want to work and stay in Monmouthshire, but there are times when there are sickness issues, vacancies, etc., and getting someone in of the right quality can sometimes take time. We have been running agency staff on longer contracts – there isn’t a designated level, it’s about the service and operational needs at a particular time. We have been able to convert some agency staff into our own staff, which is very positive. But we accept that there can be disruption in having agency staff. The plan is to have our own workforce but there will always be some agency staff. Currently, we have 6 agency staff – around 8%. At the start of the year, it was 12-13 agency staff: this year, we’ve managed to reduce our agency use by half, and convert the staff over.

What is the financial difference between employing an agency member and developing our own staff?

It isn’t a straightforward answer because we can flex the hours that agency staff work. Overall, the impact this year is around £200-250k but we have managed to negotiate with Welsh Government to try to get some of that through the Hardship Fund where it does relate to increased pressure.

Appendix 3 refers to a slippage of £12.5m in the 21st Century Schools initiative in Abergavenny, which is a concern. Can we have reassurance that the project is on track and on time?

There have been delays in the project due to the current situation with the pandemic. We have appointed the project managers and architects, so it is moving forward and we can assure members that we are working towards the 2024 opening date – everything is currently on track for that.

Chair’s Summary:

Officers have outlined the difficulties and the cost of the number of looked-after children rising from 197 to 220. That has a cost implication, with an increase in legal fees and the pay increase for staff. We had detailed questions about the budget and areas related to Covid, and the use of agency staff, which has a major cost – and human – implication. In terms of the CYP budget, it is pleasing that fewer schools are in deficit, though 3 still are. There is a benefit in not having to pay the leisure centres. Overall, we seem to be in a stronger position going forward for CYP, with no major cuts in the coming year. It is also pleasing to hear that the new 3-19 school is moving forward

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