Another £2.2m needed to cover increase in complex care placements for children


£5.9 million is now expected to be needed from reserves to balance the books

by Andy Mitchell, Local Democracy Reporter

Oxfordshire County Council is bracing itself for a £6.7 million bill to cover the cost of care placements for children with complex needs.

It was reported in July that an extra nine placements, including one costing £20,000 per week, had left the authority expecting a £4.5 million overspend for such provision across the financial year 2022-23.

The county’s latest Business Management & Monitoring Report shows that four more placements have since required funding, increasing the anticipated shortfall by another £2.2 million despite ongoing efforts to find more cost effective alternatives.

It is the largest variation to the council’s budget, set in February 2022, with £5.9 million expected to be needed from reserves to balance the books overall – £1.5 million more than the £4.4 million predicted in the last report. 

The council’s report also suggested the problems with children’s services could get worse.

It read: “The forecast overspend for children’s services is particularly volatile and there remains real concern over the level of demand and lack of care placements available in the system.

“There is significant underlying pressure of up to £11.5 million requiring rapid and active intervention.”

On the cost of the placements, the council reported an “unprecedented period of difficulty in finding suitable placements for some children, often at very short notice”, adding: “At the time the 2022-23 budget was prepared, there was only one such placement and a budget of £100,000. These placements increased during the latter part of 2021-22 and have continued to increase in 2022-23.”

Council budgets have many moving parts. Unexpected expenditure such as these placements can crop up but decisions to cut back on other spending or savings achieved through circumstances – £200,000 is expected to be saved through youth service staff not being in post until September – can offset some of the burden.

The overall cost of the council delivering its services is expected to go up by £7.2 million but an increase in interest rates, set to generate around £1.3 million, has brought down the overall deficit.

Delving into savings to the tune of £5.9 million would still leave the county with £30.8 million in general reserves, money that is “held to ensure that a major incident or emergency can be managed without impacting on other services” according to the council’s budget report.

However, risk assessments suggest this balance should not drop below £28.9 million this financial year, meaning the council only has £1.9 million of headroom left, less than a quarter of what it started with in April.

Councillor Calum Miller (Lib Dem, Otmoor), the county’s cabinet member for finance, this week told his colleagues: “We are facing some very real pressures due to the economic circumstances.

“I can assure you we are constantly reviewing these numbers and working with services to try to ensure that we live within the allocated budget for the forthcoming year.

“This number would still leave us within the risk-assessed balance level but with a margin of £1.9 million so we are keeping this under very close review.”

Published: by Banbury FM Newsteam

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