Given the persistent excess of demand for Specialist Children's Services, and of unit costs, over the level budgeted for in this financial year, will the Cabinet Member for Specialist Children's Services specify what action has been taken to reduce the forecast deficit in the budget for which he is responsible, and how he proposes to eliminate the deficit by the end of the financial year?
Thank you for your question. Specialist Children's Services were set a challenging £7 million saving target for 2014/15, following a number of years in which spending had increased to reflect demand. This additional investment helped to substantially improve children's services in the county and culminated in the lifting of OFSTED's improvement notice in 2013.
As part of the council's Facing the Challenge, the service is now engaged in the ambitious 0-25 Transformation Programme with the assistance of our Efficiency Partner, Newton Europe. Following a detailed diagnostic assessment, it was decided that some elements of the initial savings plans would not be delivered in 2014/15 as these would impact on the long-term efficiency of the service. This means the service will overspend this year against that challenging saving target and currently this is forecasted to be by £6.5 million. However, management action is already in place to reduce this by £1.9 million to a £4.6 million overspend. We are doing everything possible to reduce this even further, including continuing to raise with the government the £1.8m unfunded cost of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
We are starting to see the impact of this action with a steady decrease in the number of children needing to be taken into care, reflecting the quality of our early help and social work services. In addition we fully anticipate that further savings will be achieved in subsequent years as the Transformation Programme progresses.
As a final note, one aspect of the service which has created a financial pressure in recent years has been the cost of employing agency staff due to challenges with the recruitment of permanent social work professionals. I am pleased to be able to say that we have recently taken action in this regard - by agreeing to a range of salary incentives that aim to attract the best talent to the county, and encourage the excellent social workers we already have to stay.