Thursday 29 February 2024
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Nottingham

Fears council may not meet targets to improve children’s services amid cuts

Councillors fear targets to improve failing children’s services in Nottingham may not be met amid more budget cuts.

Nottingham City Council must fill a £32m black hole in its budget for 2023/24, and to do this it has proposed savings totalling £29m.

Cuts from past and present will impact the Labour-run authority’s children’s services, which were rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted last year.

Already 15 Children’s Centre staff have accepted voluntary redundancy and have now left the council. Nine Children’s Centres run by the authority will be cut to four.

Youth and play services will now only be delivered through targeted services, with some vacant full-time job roles cut.

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While these changes are being made, the council must conduct work to bring its services up to a better standard to meet targets set by an improvement board.

During a scrutiny committee meeting on January 26, Cllr Carole McCulloch (Lab), the chairwoman, questioned the impact of planned cuts on the outcome of improvement to children’s services.

She said: “With Ofsted saying we require improvement and with the financial plan going forward with all the cuts, do we really think with all that going on, and reduction in schools, and reduction in health, do you think we are really on target?”

Catherine Underwood, the corporate director for people services, said: “We need to make sure we are realistic about our journey of improvement.

“One of the conversations that our Essex colleagues would talk about is their ten year journey to become ‘Oustanding’.

“It is a really busy and challenging environment to do that in. If you are asking me for reflections on our confidence of us being able to improve the services in that environment, think back to the conversations we’ve had.

“I think my view is that we can be clear and confident that we are doing the right things to move our services forward, and we are starting to see a difference.

“Whilst all those challenges are happening around, we will need to always check against those.

“So I am not seeing that the changes that are happening in terms of the budget reductions, whilst they have challenges, are meaning the plan we have for improvement isn’t going to be delivered.”

Cllr McCulloch replied: “But that is a child’s whole childhood gone, ten years, gone?

“Because if that is your ten years, from five to 15, it is wiped out.

“All this austerity we’ve had, what impact is it going to have on our kids, and not just our kids but our families, and their memories of what their childhood would have been, could have been, and isn’t?”

The number of children in council care, as of November 2022, was 730.

This represents an increase of around 12 per cent since 2016, and five per cent (or 39 children) since April 2021.

The total cost of the services to the council is around £67m, or 30 per cent of the council’s entire budget.

Cllr Georgia Power (Lab), added: “My reflection would be I think [the proposals] actually sound good.

“I find it quite difficult to say ‘good’ around budget proposals, after the year we’ve just had, but I think they seem good.

“It is about getting children into the right settings.

“I am quite comfortable with the budget that is proposed. I think I’m just concerned about the capacity to achieve it, and also the impact of previous budgets that we’ve made.

“And I think we need to be clear that we as councillors made those, we all sat there and wrote them, and didn’t want to vote on them because it was horrific, but that was the only option available to us.”

A consultation on some of the budget proposals, roughly £10m of the proposed savings totalling £29m, ended on January 25.

They will be brought forward for deliberation during Full Council in March

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