Falkirk Council children’s budget overspend

Foster stock photo, by John Devlin.
Foster stock photo, by John Devlin.

Falkirk Council’s children’s services are over budget by £2.7 million.

Director Robert Naylor told members of Falkirk Council that the overspend on the social work side was almost solely down to the extra costs of looking after young people who have been in care. But he said it was a financial headache for all of the local authorities across Scotland who were legally required to implement the 2014 Children & Young People (Scotland) Act.

The council is now obliged to provide young people with support up until they are 26, boosting their chances of getting through college or university and giving them support to move into their own homes.

Mr Naylor told councillors that it had been very difficult to estimate what the cost might be but it was becoming clearer now that it costs around £1.6 million to fund the changes.

COSLA, which represents Scottish local authorities is now asking the government to give councils, including Falkirk, some extra cash to fund the changes. There is also currently an overspend in education but Mr Naylor said that this would probably change once actual staffing levels in schools– rather than predictions – had been taken into account.

Overall, the children’s social work team had been achieving substantial savings while also improving the lives of children in care through the ‘Closer to Home’ strategy which is trying to ensure children and young people are not sent away to expensive – and isolating – residential accommodation.

The overspend in Children’s Services will be balanced out by savings that had been made in other areas, finance manager Brian Smail told councillors.

Falkirk Council also received a windfall in the form of funding from the Scottish Government to more than cover the cost of increases to teachers’ pay and pension costs – they received £1.4 million more than needed to fund the pay award.

However, council cash remains stretched and since the council set its budget in February, staff have been told they must continue to plan for savings in future years.

That means wherever possible vacancies are not being filled and temporary contracts are ended as soon as possible.

The council continues to offer voluntary severance and has a pot of £2.058 million set aside to pay for this.

Council staff numbers have not changed that much, however, as ring-fenced projects such as the huge increase in early years officers and jobs funded by the Pupil Equity Fund are included.